Web campaign mixes fact and fiction to end petitioner's 14 years in detention

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 January, 2011, 12:00am

When Peng Baoquan began writing internet postings in July to try to help draw public attention to the plight of Guo Yuanrong, a petitioner locked up in a psychiatric facility, the Shiyan Maojian Hospital, for more than 14 years, he said the response was disappointing.

So Peng, a retired bank clerk from Shiyan , Hubei , gave it another shot this month, using the name of Guo's daughter, who claimed to be a teacher who was willing to give away her virginity to help obtain her father's release.

The revised posting set off an outpouring of sympathy from thousands of internet users, and it was picked up by mainstream media outlets. A mere three days later, Guo was released from hospital.

Justice and truth prevailed, right? Well, not exactly.

Maybe justice prevailed, but Peng's posting was mostly fiction: Guo, who had been an employee of the Zhuxi county bureau of construction in the same province, doesn't have a daughter. It was all done just to make the internet posting much more eye-catching.

'I was just thinking of what a great irony it would be for a well-educated teacher to have no other options but to offer her body to get help for her father,' Peng said.

'I wouldn't have resorted to that strategy if I had seen justice done via official channels.'

To Peng, the end justifies the means because it righted the greater wrong. Guo's locking up in the psychiatric hospital at the order of county police and his recent release underscore how few options besides media exposure are left for mainlanders to defend themselves against some of the loopholes in the legal and social welfare system regarding psychiatric facilities, which has led to rampant abuses by authorities to stifle dissent.

Peng said he had met Guo in the psychiatric hospital, where he had also been locked up for six days after taking photos of protesters in front of a Shiyan hotel in April.

When he chatted with Guo the first time, he said he found Guo a bit eccentric, but he spoke with the clarity and logic of any normal person.

Peng said he decided to take up Guo's case because he felt extremely sorry for him; his wife had divorced him and left their 10-year-old son in the care of Guo's elderly parents.

Peng also shrugged off criticism for misleading the media and internet users.

'Yes, it's a combination of fiction and facts, but I think I did it for the sake of justice,' he said. 'It didn't do any harm to anyone.'

Guo's younger brother, Guo Yuansheng , said the family learned about Peng's internet posting only when reporters called, but his family were grateful to him.

Guo Yuanrong had been petitioning higher authorities to report his bureau director for taking bribes when he was thrown into the psychiatric hospital on November 16, 1996, by the county police for an 'obsessive schizophrenia of a hereditary nature', according to media reports.

Guo's younger brother said he was shocked to hear of the event because he never imagined Guo could have a psychiatric illness.

One of the key issues is that the family might never know whether Guo really had psychiatric illness, as it is far too easy for police to obtain such a medical diagnosis without the need to consult the family of the person they want to confine.

'To me, he was always a caring older brother, who always saved good food and clothes for his younger siblings,' said Guo Yuansheng.

Guo Yuanrong declined to be interviewed; his brother said he was wary of talking about his experience.

Huang Xuetao, a Shenzhen-based lawyer and chief author of a 2010 report on the country's mental-health laws and status of its welfare system for the mentally ill, said Guo was a typical victim of 'a legal black hole' in mental health legislation, which gives police and hospital too much authority.

Police had no right to confine Guo in the hospital, she said, as he showed no signs of violence in his petitioning. His quick release once his case was publicised showed police knew they were wrong to keep him locked up.

Zhou Ze, a lawyer specialising in media law, acknowledged that though telling the truth is virtuous, he deplored the media's indifference to Guo's plight until Peng resorted to lying in the internet posting.

'He was an ordinary internet user who sought public attention, so it's nothing outrageous,' Zhou said.

'... To judge whether what he did is moral and ethical or not depends on whether justice has been served.'