China petitioners denounce "mentally ill" label

Wed Apr 8, 2009 1:15pm EDT
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By Maxim Duncan

BEIJING (Reuters) - Angry Chinese petitioners descended on Peking University on Wednesday, protesting against comments by a prominent psychiatrist who branded them mentally ill.

But even as they arrived, police and security officers hauled them away as they shouted their complaints.

Sun Dongdong, head of the university's judicial expertise center, ignited public anger by suggesting that 99 percent of people who repeatedly petitioned the government were mentally ill. The center helps judicial authorities evaluate a person's mental health.

Sun later said some of his words were used out of context by the media and misinterpreted by the public. Sun said he did not say 99 percent of all "professional petitioners" in the country were mentally ill -- only 99 percent of "those whom he had met."

"I extend my sincere, deep apology to those people whose feelings are hurt," Sun said in a statement sent to the China Daily.

At least 100 middle-aged and old petitioners demonstrated at the prestigious university, shouting out complaints against Sun and publicizing their own grievances.

"They (corrupt officials) beat me and left me disabled, and knocked out four of my teeth. They are cruel. And now Sun Dongdong says that we petitioners are mentally ill," said protester Xu Jiajiao from eastern Zhejiang province. "But it's the professor who is mentally ill."

State petitioning offices have for decades offered a rare official channel for ordinary people to vent complaints, a system that reaches back to ancient times, when subjects could petition the emperor and his officials.   Continued...

<p>A petitioner sits on the ground as Chinese policemen and security officers try to remove her from the entrance of Peking University in Beijing, April 8, 2009. REUTERS/Reinhard Krause</p>