China's National People's Congress (NPC) [official website] on Friday adopted the nation's first mental health law to protect the rights of the mentally ill, according to a report [text] by the country's state-run news agency. The new law is designed to protect the safety and privacy of individuals with mental illnesses. The law specifically aims to protect the identities and personal information of individuals receiving care in psychiatric facilities. The law is also designed to curb the wrongful institutionalization of individuals who are not mentally ill. China has been criticized by human rights activists [JURIST report] for the state of its psychiatric care. Among the key criticisms were the lack of laws protecting the mentally ill and the lack of protection against forced detention in psychiatric facilities. Human rights advocates in China said the new law is an important step, but expressed concern [WSJ report] that it does not do enough to prevent abuse of the system.
Human rights groups have expressed concern in the past about illegal detention in China. In June Human Rights Watch reported that China's chengguan, a para-police organization charged with enforcing non-criminal administrative regulations, is abusing its power [JURIST report]. The report indicated that although the chengguan are not authorized to arrest citizens or use excessive force, they frequently do both. In March the NPC passed a law [JURIST report] allowing police to detain certain suspects for up to six months in secret detention facilities commonly known as "black jails." In July 2010 Amnesty International urged [JURIST report] the Chinese government to launch an independent investigation into law enforcement conduct during the July 2009 Xinjiang riots [JURIST news archive], accusing police of executing arbitrary arrests and employing excessive force.