Thursday, March 23, 2006

Afghan Christian Faces New Threat — Forced Institutionalization

The news from Afghanistan is that Abdul Rahman, the man who is facing a possible death sentence for converting to Christianity from Islam, may be able to keep his life — but still may never regain his freedom.

The Afghan prosecutor is considering having Rahman declared insane.

The news stories are cautiously playing this as though it is an encouraging development. I beg to differ. While life is always better than death, I take no pleasure in the thought that the Afghans may take America's relief at Rahman's being "spared" as a sign that they may institutionalize Christians and other dissidents with impunity.

A few weeks ago, the Virginia Law Web site published an interview with New York Law School Professor Michael Perlin on this very subject: "Human Rights Abuses in Mental Institutions Common Worldwide, Perlin Says." Here are some highlights from that article which, although they were written before the Rahman case, are eerily relevant today:

Michel Foucault first addressed the oppressive use of state-sponsored psychiatry, but the earliest noteworthy modern work was Sidney Bloch and Peter Reddaway’s 1985 “shattering” book, Psychiatric Terror: How Soviet Psychiatry Is Used to Suppress Discontent. In it, Bloch and Reddaway explain how the Soviet Union used an extremely broad definition of schizophrenia and other mental illnesses to label political dissenters as delusional.

“A patient’s conviction that the state must be changed was seen as an indicia of mental illness,” Perlin said.

Placing dissidents in psychiatric hospitals rather than prisons served three points: it avoided the already limited procedural safeguards of a criminal trial, stigmatized people to subordinate them, and confined dissenters indefinitely. By 1989 conditions had begun to improve in the Soviet Union, according to Perlin, but tools of coercive psychiatry still were used in what some call the “criminalization of dissent.” And this practice was not limited to Russia; the expression of political opinions was perceived as delusional throughout the Soviet block.

Furthermore, a study of China authored by Robin Monroe five years ago found “hyperdiagnosis” of dissidents and nonconformists as mentally ill.

“If you protest politically, you demonstrate by that an absence of instinct for self-preservation, or if you pursue a legal complaint against a corrupted or repressive official, that’s a sign of mental illness,” Perlin said.
Perlin goes on to point out that suppressing dissidents by institutionalization violates international law:
Since these studies were conducted, new laws have been passed by nations as well as by international governing organizations. The United Nations adopted the Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and for the Improvement of Mental Health Care, called the MI principles, which provide basic international guidelines. The MI principles do not speak specifically to the issue of state psychiatry as used for political suppression, but the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights has been interpreted in that context. For example the Wintwerp case of 1979 found that a person cannot be detained by states because his views or behavior deviate from norms of society, Perlin said.
In other words, if Afghanistan keeps Rahman locked up for his beliefs, it will be in clear violation of international law.

For updates on Rahman's case, visit Michelle Malkin and