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BEIJING (Reuters) - Authorities in eastern China have found a creative way to deal with residents with complaints -- checking them into a mental hospital and force-feeding them drugs, local media reported on Monday, citing victims.
Authorities in Xintai, a municipal region in eastern Shandong province, had forced at least 18 people with grievances, ranging from police brutality to property disputes, into a local mental hospital, the Beijing News said.
Chinese residents with complaints directed at local governments often travel to "petitions and appeals" offices (also called "letters and visits" offices) in provincial capitals and in Beijing after failing to get redress through lower channels.
Local governments, fearing embarrassment, often send police and other officials to intercept them and forcefully take them back to their home villages.
Sun Fawu, a 57-year-old retired miner from Dagouqiao village in Xintai, was force-fed drugs and injections during a more than 20-day stay at the Xintai Mental Health Hospital in October, the paper said.
"My head was always dizzy and I could not stay up," the paper quoted Sun as saying. He had campaigned for years to get compensation for spoiled farm land and housing stemming from coal mining near his village.
Sun was released only after he signed a document saying he was mentally ill and "would not petition again," the paper said.
Lao Shi, an 84-year-old retiree from Tianbao township, was sent directly to hospital in 2006 after traveling to Beijing to complain about a local property dispute.
The former public servant counted 18 petitioners in over two years there, a list corroborated by Wu Yuzhu, the hospital's director.
"The hospital also has its misgivings," Wu told the paper, saying that it was under pressure to take petitioners, some of whom would arrive escorted by police.
Checking petitioners into the hospital was in part a matter of hard-boiled economics, a local official said, given cash-strapped local governments could ill afford to chase petitioners to Beijing and other places.
"Every time we have to send three or five people to Beijing, and pay their food and accommodation, it's not a matter of pennies," the paper quoted Chen Jianfa, assistant to the head of Quangou township in Xintai, as saying
Officials contacted at the publicity office of Xintai municipal government and its petitions office refused to comment on the report.
A notice posted on the website of the Xintai petitions office (www.xtxfj.gov.cn) dated November 9 urged officials to identify mentally ill petitioners.
"Show care for mentally ill petitioners, help them to get legal evaluation, and send those not in a sound mind to hospital for treatment," the notice said.
An Shizhi, head of the letters and visits office in Quangou township, said local officials were under pressure to keep petitioner numbers down.
"If petitioners bypass local authorities, the head of both the (Communist) Party and government get punished," An said.
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Nick Macfie