The Use of Mental Disability Law to Suppress Political Dissent

Michael L. Perlin

in International Human Rights and Mental Disability Law

Published in print August 2011 | ISBN: 9780195393231
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199914548 | DOI:

Series: American Psychology-Law Society Series

The Use of Mental Disability Law to Suppress Political Dissent

More Like This

Show all results sharing this subject:

  • Criminal and Forensic Psychology


Show Summary Details


For many years, institutional psychiatry was a major tool in the suppression of political dissent. Moreover, while the worst excesses of the past have mostly disappeared, the problem is not limited to the pages of history. The revelations of the worst of these abuses (and the concomitant rectification of many of them) may, paradoxically, have created the false illusion that all the major problems attendant to questions of institutional treatment and conditions in these nations have been solved. This is decidedly not so. This chapter poses this question: To what extent has institutional, state-sponsored psychiatry been used as a tool of political suppression, and what are the implications of this pattern and practice? It discusses the first revelations of the dehumanization inflicted on persons with mental disabilities, primarily (but not exclusively) in Soviet bloc nations; developments after these revelations were publicized; the extent to which the postrevelation reforms have been effective and meaningful; and the significance of sanism and pretextuality in this context. It concludes that the political use of state psychiatry and the wretched conditions in which “nonpolitical” individuals are held and treated in state psychiatric facilities cannot be understood as two discrete and unrelated issues. The Russian state (and other Soviet bloc nations) used (and China continues to use) state psychiatry as a means of silencing dissidents for multiple reasons: so as to allow the state to circumvent the (minimal) procedural safeguards that would have to attend a criminal trial, to allow for indefinite confinement, and to stigmatize and thus discredit potential political threats. The very same states treat patients in public psychiatric hospitals in ways that utterly fail to meet minimal standards of human decency, and that violate international law by avoiding procedural safeguards (as to fair hearing and periodic review) and freely perpetuate these actions because the persons who are institutionalized are stigmatized as a result of their mental illness—the inevitable end-product of sanism—and are thus discredited as human beings.

Keywords: international human rights; mental disability law; political use of psychiatry; sanism; pretextuality; Society Union; China

Chapter.  9953 words. 

Subjects: Criminal and Forensic Psychology

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.