EDITORIAL: Taipei has violated human rights

Sun, Apr 03, 2016 - Page 8

While the central government is considering amending the Mental Health Act (精神衛生法) to reinstate the forced hospitalization of people with mental illnesses, the Taipei City Government quickly turned the idea into action, but officials should be reminded that it is a serious violation of human rights and personal freedom.

Amid talk about amending the act following the decapitation of a four-year-old girl in Taipei’s Neihu District (內湖) last week, allegedly by a man who claimed to be mentally ill, the Taipei City Government quickly acted by forcibly hospitalizing a homeless man, surnamed Ting (丁), who had been living on the National Chengchi University campus for years.

A video purportedly recorded by a witness shows Ting refusing to get into an ambulance, saying: “I did not do anything wrong,” “Why are you doing this?” and “I do not want to go.”

The footage shows police grabbing him and forcing him into the ambulance, while a man, whose identity was not revealed, helps the officers and tells onlookers to go away and stop taking pictures or recording videos.

It is not known who called for an ambulance to take Ting away. City government spokesman Sidney Lin (林鶴明) said campus security made the request, while Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) said that a friend of Ting’s was worried about him losing weight and not having enough to eat, and asked the city government to intervene.

Ting was eventually discharged from the hospital he was taken to at the Taipei District Court’s order and returned to the university campus, as he told the court that he did not want to stay at the hospital.

No matter who made the request to have Ting hospitalized, what the city government did was a serious violation of human rights — as the Constitution grants every Taiwanese the freedom of movement, regardless of their health condition — especially when Ting has not harmed anyone, with some students saying they are on very good terms with him.

The city government’s action was not only a violation of human rights, but also government-backed discrimination, because it is telling the public that if someone has a mental illness, or people even suspect them of having one, they could be a potential criminal, and the government has the right to take pre-emptive actions against them to “protect society.”

It is unimaginable to think how serious the problem is: This time it was Ting, next time it could be anyone.

What if someone is arguing with their neighbor over a parking issue and both of them are so angry that they start shouting at each other? Could someone call the police to say that they are hysterical and seem to be mentally ill to have them forcibly hospitalized?

If someone is walking in an MRT station and thinks about something funny and starts to smile, could someone passing by think that they look “weird” and call the police to have them taken away?

According to figures from the Ministry of Health and Welfare, there are 2.3 million people in the nation — about 10 percent of the population — who have some form of mental illness, including insomnia and depression. Will people start treating all of them as potential threats to society?

Some might say: “Do people have to wait until a person with a mental illness hurts someone to take action against them?” The answer is “Yes,” as in a democratic society under the rule of law, everyone is innocent, regardless of their mental health, until proven guilty.