Soap guru overcomes shock and shock-induced blindness to “save the world with soap”

Dr. Bronner attempts to save the world with soap
By Molly Snyder Edler
Oct. 26, 2006

“If we ever advertised, I would have a billboard reading ‘Our soap makes your crotch tingle,’” jokes Ralph Bronner, vice president of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, a 60-year-old company based in Escondido, California.

But Ralph, who lives in Menomonee Falls, doesn’t advertise. Instead, he promotes his family’s business in unconventional ways. He and his wife road trip across the country with cases of soap, stopping at health fairs and natural food stores. Also, he interviews frequently with journalists, and articles about his company have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and Vogue, among many others.

Ralph inherited his anti-advertising philosophy and free spirit from his eccentric father Emmanuel Bronner — AKA “Dr. Bronner” — who started the business in the ’40s.

Although “Dr. Bronner” never attended a university, he earned a “soapmaster’s degree” — basically a completed apprenticeship — and declared himself a doctor of soap. Over the years, he also referred to himself as “The Pope of Soap” and “Rabbi E.H. Bronner.”

Dr. Bronner was from an Orthodox Jewish family, and much of the company’s vision and philosophy were born out of devastation from the Holocaust. Dr. Bronner believed that humans are all from the same divine source and often he printed the words “All-One!” on his bottles of soap.

Dr. Bronner was also a pioneer in the environmentalist movement, and today, the company is still ecologically friendly and socially conscious. The company donated a rain forest territory worth $1.4 million to the Boy’s and Girl’s Club for a camp. They also give over 10 percent of profits annually to a slew of non-profit organizations, use only natural ingredients (including hemp), never test their products on animals and offer fantastic wages and benefits to their employees.

The soap, available in liquid or bar form, comes in a variety of scents, including peppermint (which, for the record, does make things rather tingly “down there”), almond, tree tea oil, lavender and rose. It can be used on skin, hair, teeth, floors, cars, pets and as mosquito repellent, denture cleanser, athlete’s foot medicine and diaper deodorizer.

Over the years, rumors have surfaced claiming that the soap can be used as a douche and as birth control, but Bronner says the company doesn’t recommend these practices.

The Dr. Bronner product line expanded over the past few years. New products include Dr. Bronner’s & Sun Dog’s Magic lotions, lip balms and tattoo balms, and a line called Gertrude & Bronner’s Magic Alpsnack energy bars.

Dr. Bronner started the soap company in the late ’40s, but the business didn’t begin to gel until the late ’60s when Haight Ashbury hippies discovered the soap through word-of-mouth advertising. Hippies embraced the product because it was simple, natural and inexpensive, and because the label quoted poets, spiritual leaders and other visionaries.

The label, crammed with more than 3,000 words of copy and not a single graphic, looks more like a page torn from a book rather than a product label. Dr. Bronner used the label as his personal soapbox (no pun intended) to promote his ideas of environmental protection, peace, global unity and one-love/one-God.

Originally, Ralph was a non-believer in Dr. Bronner’s labels that quote a diverse group of people, including Jesus, Oprah Winfrey and Carl Sagan. He thought the label was aesthetically unpleasing and that no one would read it. He also thought the product needed a catchier name than “Dr. Bronner’s.”

“I thought he should call the soap ‘Mint Glow,’” Ralph says.

Prior to the computer age, Dr. Bronner coerced Ralph to type the labels on typewriters, sometimes just to change a single word. Although the labels were a source of frustration for Ralph, he is sentimental about them today. In the late ’90s, when Dr. Bronner was dying of Parkinson’s Disease, Ralph spoke all 3,123 words of the peppermint label onto a cassette and gave it to his dying father.

“He called me and said, ‘Did I write all of this?’ and I said ‘Yes, Dad. You did.’”

Ralph has not changed a single word on the labels since his father died in March of 1997.

Dr. Bronner was born Emmanuel Heilbronner (he later dropped the “Heil” to disassociate his name from the phrase “Heil, Hitler!”) to a family of German soap makers in 1908. He moved to Milwaukee in 1930 and married Paula Wolfart in 1933. They had three children: Ellen, James and Ralph.

Aside from being a fourth generation soap maker, Emmanuel was a visionary obsessed. He gave speeches, handed out flyers and sent 200 telegrams to President Roosevelt demanding “Peace on earth through one God!”

Despite his peaceful ideas and harmless nature, a bizarre event quickly changed Dr. Bronner’s life for the worse. In 1945, Chicago police found a man nailed to a cross under an elevated train track, and the man claimed he was dying for “Dr. Bronner’s peace plan.” Although Bronner did not know this man or what he meant by “peace plan,” he was arrested and committed to a mental hospital in Elgin, Ill.

Emmanuel underwent six months of manual labor and electric shock treatment (which caused the blindness he suffered for the last 30 years of his life). Finally, on his third attempt, Dr. Bronner escaped from the institution after stealing $20. However, he didn’t return to his family in Milwaukee, rather went to California where he started his soap company out of a Los Angeles hotel. Meanwhile, Ralph and his siblings lost their mother to an illness and lived in more than a dozen foster homes.

“Creative geniuses don’t always make good fathers,” says Ralph. “I don’t think Mozart would’ve stopped writing a symphony to take his kid to the park.”

Despite the strained relationship with his father, Ralph has grown to appreciate the man who spent most of his life running a soap company while wearing a leopard skin bathing suit. Ralph now understands that the soap was simply a way for his passionate father to spread his message to hopefully improve the planet he called “Spaceship Earth.”

“Dad used to say ‘Everybody, Jew or Gentile, uses soap,’ and he’s right. I’d hate to be downwind from someone who didn’t,” says Ralph.

Jane Pauley suit against NYT says paper duped her into being drug stooge

News flash: New York Times takes a crap on the small amount of credibility it had left. Stick a fork in it…they should merge with CBS News and just call themselves THE BIG PILE.

Jane Pauley Sues New York Times
Broadcaster claims fraud over appearance in drug industry advertorial

Oct. 25, 2006
The Smoking Gun

OCTOBER 25–Claiming that The New York Times duped her into granting an interview for what turned out to be a drug company-funded advertising supplement, Jane Pauley has sued the newspaper for fraud. In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, the 55-year-old broadcaster charges that she believed that the Times interview was for a news article on mental health issues, but that the story (accompanied by a full-page photo) ran in an October 2005 “special advertising supplement” promoting psychotherapeutic drugs sold by Eli Lilly and other pharmaceutical firms. Pauley, who in September 2004 disclosed her battle with bipolar disorder, alleges that the Times “duped” her into lending her name to its advertising gambit, according to the lawsuit, an excerpt of which you’ll find below. After going public about her bipolar disorder, the lawsuit notes, Pauley has worked with several mental health advocacy groups, including the National Mental Health Association. Pauley’s lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from the newspaper and DeWitt Publishing, which helped arrange the advertorial.

Court records

Veteran waits for help with stress disorder

By Lex Alexander
Greensboro News-Record

Oct. 8, 2006

Butch Kirkman, of Archdale, served eight years on active duty in the Air Force. He has spent half that long trying to get disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

He isn’t done.

On Sept. 21, the Board of Veterans Appeals in Washington turned down his claim. It did so even though a regional office in Winston-Salem admitted misplacing his records and even though the department is required by law to give a veteran the benefit of the doubt in close calls.
Veterans often complain that the department can seem capricious and arbitrary in denying claims for benefits.

But many also say that the delay in getting any answer is a huge problem. If the veteran dies before his claim is decided, his claim dies with him. Veterans sardonically call this the “Delay, deny and hope that I die” policy. Kirkman’s case exemplifies some of the typical delays at the regional and national levels.

The News & Record last month contacted the department’s Winston-Salem regional office for this report; that office referred inquiries to Washington. The department did not return calls or respond to written questions.

James Michael “Butch” Kirkman seemed an unlikely candidate to seek disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder.
He had among the cushiest duties an American serviceman could have in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam era. In early 1973, he was posted for a year to an air base in Thailand, where he supervised telephone circuitry.

But at one point, as he was traveling to electronics school in Hawaii, his airport bus in Saigon was attacked. Two fellow passengers were wounded, although Kirkman escaped uninjured.

Then, on July 4, 1973, his air base was planning to shoot fireworks. Kirkman had agreed to swap some phone time to a Marine gunnery sergeant for a stint in one of two machine-gun nests on the base perimeter. He was planning to fire a .50-caliber machine gun during the fireworks.

“I wasn’t real bright,” he says now. “I didn’t stop and think about why the machine guns were out there.”

As he sat in the nest, six infiltrators slipped through the perimeter. Kirkman and a gunner in the other nest opened fire, hitting all six. One man he shot had pulled the pin on a hand grenade when the bullets, thick as a man’s thumb, struck him.

“If you’ve ever seen what a .50-caliber does to somebody …” he says, his voice trailing off.  Kirkman’s active duty ended in 1976. By 2000, he had become director of operations for a regional telephone company, making almost $125,000 a year.

Then he became depressed: anxious, suicidal, homicidal. He wouldn’t leave the house. He wouldn’t bathe. His employer laid him off in December 2000. He mortgaged his home for money to live on while he sought other work.

He tried other jobs but had to leave his last job, in March 2002, after a day and a half. His doctor certified him completely disabled. He and his wife, Myra, were forced into bankruptcy.
In mid-2002, Kirkman’s health insurance ran out, so he went to the veterans’ hospital in Durham. Doctors there advised him to seek service-related disability benefits. At 3 a.m. on Sept. 26, 2002, he sat down to do just that.

Almost a year later, Kirkman’s disability claim was denied by the department’s Winston-Salem regional office. Your symptoms, the office declared, don’t meet the official definition of post-traumatic stress disorder. But just a month prior, the department’s own doctors had formally diagnosed the disorder and classified him as completely disabled.

Regional offices are legally required to tell veterans what information or documents they need to include in their claims. But no one had told Kirkman exactly what he needed to prove a claim of PTSD, Myra Kirkman later wrote to the department.

Immediately, the Kirkmans sent copies of two letters from a psychologist at the veterans’ hospital in Salisbury. The first letter said that Kirkman displayed multiple symptoms of PTSD and recommended detailed testing. The second documented a formal diagnosis of PTSD.

Meanwhile, drugs weren’t helping Kirkman’s depression. In May 2004, he began electroconvulsive therapy — “shock treatment” — in Salisbury. He underwent 12 weekly sessions before experiencing a panic attack so severe that nurses thought he was having a stroke.

Kirkman used that treatment to try to have his case re opened. But in October 2004, his claim was denied again.

Veterans whose claims have been denied can ask for their claims to be examined by a decision-review officer in the regional office. The Kirkmans requested that in January 2005.

But they had another request: If the review officer could not overturn the denial, the couple wanted the case forwarded immediately to the Board of Veterans Appeals in Washington, D.C., without any additional documentation.

The Kirkmans took that step, Myra Kirkman wrote in a later letter to the board, because Butch Kirkman was willing to acknowledge that there were no formal military records of, or witnesses to, the events that caused his disorder.

In the meantime, Kirkman’s symptoms had become so severe that he spent six weeks in a special unit for PTSD patients at the Salisbury hospital.

At the hearing in May 2005, the decision-review officer told Kirkman his testimony was not reliable because no corroborating records or witnesses could be found — facts Kirkman already had acknowledged.
The regional office, rather than forwarding the case immediately to the Board of Veterans Appeals as the Kirkmans had asked, continued to seek nonexistent records from both them and the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis in late 2005.

The Kirkmans didn’t get formal notification until May 12 — almost a full year after they had asked for their “immediate” appeal. About the same time, the Winston-Salem office acknowledged that it had “misplaced” the records it had borrowed from the records center in St. Louis.

Appeals normally are handled in the order in which they are scheduled with the Board of Veterans Appeals. But in light of the misplaced records, Myra Kirkman asked the board to hear her husband’s case early. Otherwise, the wait could have been years.

On Aug. 18, the board agreed to hear Kirkman’s case sooner. And it did: On Sept. 21, the board denied Kirkman’s claim.

Kirkman and his attorney, Craig Kabatchnick, plan to appeal the claim to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. It will take Kabatchnick and the government months to get the case ready for the court to review. Once that happens, the court will take several months to rule on it.

If the court grants Kirkman’s claim, he will begin receiving benefits.
If it denies the claim, Kirkman can appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, where a decision can take 12 to 18 months. And if, as frequently happens, it sends the case back to the regional office for additional fact-finding, the whole process starts over again.

Sir Malcom Arnold dies

Film composer Arnold dies at 84
David Smith
Sunday September 24 2006
The Observer

The tormented but irrepressible career of Sir Malcolm Arnold, the most recorded British composer of all time and the first to win an Oscar, ended last night with his death at the age of 84.

Arnold, who won an Academy Award for his score for The Bridge on the River Kwai, passed away in hospital in Norfolk after suffering a chest infection.

Hours later, his newest work, a ballet version of The Three Musketeers, premiered at the Alhambra in Bradford, West Yorkshire. A special dedication to Arnold’s memory was made before the performance.

Arnold was prodigiously talented but had a tumultuous private life, plagued by severe depression, chronic alcoholism and attempts at suicide. He repeatedly ended up in hospital for insulin treatments and electric shock therapy. Yet he found sufficient peace to compose 132 film scores, including those for Whistle Down the Wind, Hobson’s Choice and The Belles of St Trinian’s. His prolific output also included nine symphonies, seven ballets, two operas, one musical and more than 20 concertos.

Cellist Julian Lloyd Webber insisted that Arnold never received the credit he deserved. ‘I think he was a very, very great composer but uneven in his output,’ he said. ‘Because he had humour in his music he was never fully appreciated by the classical establishment. He was a total genius but a very badly behaved genius – but then so was Mozart.’

Arnold, the youngest of five children from a prosperous family of shoemakers in Northampton, was a rebellious teenager attracted to the creative freedom of jazz. He took up the trumpet after seeing Louis Armstrong play in Bournemouth and, at 17, won a scholarship at the Royal College of Music. By 1943, he was a principal trumpeter with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

His first symphony was performed in 1950 and three years later he wrote a coronation ballet, Homage to the Queen, which was premiered at Covent Garden. His growing reputation brought comparisons with Benjamin Britten and many commissions, including the film scores. He had to write the music for The Bridge on the River Kwai, starring Alec Guinness and William Holden, in just 10 days but it won the Oscar in 1958, partly for its counterpoint melody to the ‘Colonel Bogie’ march.

In the Sixties, following the breakdown of his marriage, Arnold moved to Cornwall with his second wife, but he descended into alcoholism, causing another marital split.

Arnold, who was knighted in 1993, leaves behind two sons and one daughter. His 85th birthday next month was due to be celebrated by concerts around the world.

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited

ECT on The Power Hour: Mike Rupp and John Breeding to be guests

Mike Rupp and John Breeding will be the guests on The Power Hour radio show on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 10 am to noon Eastern Time (6-8am PST). The hosts have an interest in the issue as they were involved in ECT practice in their younger days.

The Power Hour is aired on the Genesis Communication Network and various local affiliates, including Austin Free Radio, 90.1, 100.1, and 106.3 FM depending on what part of town you are in. You can listen on your computer at

It would be great if some of you called in during the show. That number is 1-800-259-9231.

Ted Chabasinski on MindFreedom Weekly News Hour
MindFreedom Weekly News Hour – Live Free Internet Radio.

Next guest: Psychiatric survivor hero Ted Chabasinski

When: *This* Tuesday, 19 September 2006, at 1 pm eastern time, 10 am pacific time.

How: Click on to listen live or to hear the archive later.

What: Topic = “From forced electroshock as a child to human rights activist leader.”

You will hear psychiatric survivor activist Ted Chabasinski of California as a guest on the MindFreedom Weekly News Hour Internet radio show. Ted is a true hero in the social change movement to change the mental health system. He will be interviewed by host David Oaks on the live free show which is part of the Progressive Radio Network.

You’ll also hear the latest news and resources to win human rights and alternatives in the mental health system.

You may e-mail your questions and comments before, during or after the show to Your questions and comments may be read live during the show. Please say if you wish to be anonymous.


TED CHABASINSKI was once given electroshock treatment as part of an experiment at age six, then sent to a New York State psychiatric institution where he spent the rest of his childhood. Now an attorney in Berkeley, California, he has been well-respected leader in the psychiatric survivors movement since 1971. Ted was the main organizer of the 1982 ballot campaign to ban shock treatment in Berkeley, California, which was passed overwhelmingly by the voters there. Ted is on the board of MindFreedom International.

The interview will cover:

* How did Ted survive years of psychiatric institutionalization and electroshock experimentation?

* What are stories and highlights from 35 years of organizing in the psychiatric survivors social change movement?

* How can people effectively organize today to challenge psychiatric abuse and promote alternatives?

* What direction would Ted like to see the movement to change the mental health system head?

State Department Reports on Religious Freedom in China; allegations of forced electroshock

Full report, released September 15, 2006


In December 2005 a Beijing attorney sent an open letter to President Hu Jintao highlighting abuses of Falun Gong practitioners. The letter described the electric shock torture of Zhang Zhikui, a Falun Gong practitioner arrested for repeated petitioning in Beijing, and the October beating death in Changchun, Jilin Province of Liu Boyang and his mother Wang Shouhui. The letter, and a similar open letter sent by the attorney in 2004, referred to the extra-legal activities of the 610 office, reportedly involved in many of the abuses of Falun Gong. In 2005 the Government revoked the attorney’s license to practice law, and the attorney has claimed repeated government harassment, including an automobile accident that he publicly described as an “assassination attempt.” Foreigners attempting to meet with the attorney have been detained and harassed.

According to Falun Gong practitioners in the United States, since 1999 more than 100,000 practitioners have been detained for engaging in Falun Gong practices, admitting that they adhere to the teachings of Falun Gong, or refusing to criticize the organization or its founder. The organization reported that its members have been subject to excessive force, abuse, rape, detention, and torture, and that some of its members, including children, have died in custody. NGOs not affiliated with the Falun Gong documented nearly 500 cases of Falun Gong members detained, prosecuted, or sentenced to reeducation during the period covered by this report. Credible estimates suggested the actual number was much higher. In November 2005 police at the Dongchengfang Police Station in Tunzhou City, Hebei Province, reportedly raped two Falun Gong practitioners. Reliable sources indicated that Zheng Ruihuan and Liu Yinglan were detained in Shandong Province in July 2005 for practicing Falun Gong. In May 2006, Yuan Yuju and Liang Jinhui, relatives of a Hong Kong journalist who works for a television station supportive of Falun Gong, were sentenced to reeducation for using an illegal cult to organize and obstruct justice, relating to their distribution of Falun Gong materials. Some foreign observers estimated that at least half of the 250,000 officially recorded inmates in the country’s reeducation-through-labor camps were Falun Gong adherents. Falun Gong sources overseas placed the number even higher. Hundreds of Falun Gong adherents were also incarcerated in legal education centers, a form of administrative detention, upon completion of their reeducation-through-labor sentences. Government officials denied the existence of such “legal education” centers. According to the Falun Gong, hundreds of its practitioners have been confined to psychiatric institutions and forced to take medications or undergo electric shock treatment against their will.

More from the US State Department on Falun Gong:

Bobby Fletcher’s info on China: he believes much of the above is a hoax and is concerned it will divert attention from “real” human rights issues in China:

Psychiatry’s Human Rights Violations – Handout in Toronto near APA meeting

Note: Psychiatric survivors and supporters handed out many copies of this
leaflet on the street outside the Convention Centre in Toronto where the
American Psychiatric Association held its annual meeting in May 2006.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is holding its Annual Meeting in
Toronto on May 20-25, 2006. On May 26-27, a “Conference on Ethics in Mental
Health:” endorsed by the APA, is also being held Toronto. Since psychiatric
survivors have not been invited to speak at these conferences–with 1
exception of an unnamed “client” at the mental health conference–we feel
it’s appropriate to distribute this document as our contribution to public
education about many human rights violations in the psychiatry-dominated
“mental health system”. This is a short list of many of psychiatry’s
unethical practices or human rights violations minimized or denied by the
APA, the Canadian Psychiatric Association, and World Psychiatric

The right to voluntary informed consent is enshrined in virtually all
mental health laws, it’s a key principle of medical ethics. This right
means that when prescribing any treatment or procedure, the physician must,
a., not use any pressure, threat or coercion to obtain consent; b., tell
you the nature of your condition or illness; c., inform you of the
immediate risks and other common risks of the treatment (“side effects”);
d., inform you of alternatives to the treatment; and e., inform you of your
right to refuse. Psychiatrists frequently violate this right – especially
when prescribing psychiatric drugs (“medication”) and electroshock (“ECT”).

Psychiatrists frequently administer brain-disabling antidepressants and
neuroleptics and addictive tranquilizers (“medication”) without informed
consent of their patients. This is unlawful. Forced drugging is assault. In
fact, any “unwanted touching” constitutes assault in many criminal codes
including the Criminal Code of Canada. Many psychiatric survivors have been
traumatized and disabled (sometimes permanently) by forced drugging (e.g.
injections). Many more women than men are drugged; women diagnosed as
depressed, “bipolar” or suffering “postpartum depression” are the main
targets of this psychiatric assault.

3. ELECTROSHOCK ( “electroconvulsive therapy”/ECT”)
As one of the most disabling and inhumane procedures in psychiatry,
electroshock is increasingly used in several countries including Canada,
United States, and the UK. ECT’s immediate effects include seizure,
convulsion, coma, severe headache, disorientation, nausea, and physical
weakness. Its long-term effects include permanent memory loss, learning and
reading disabilities, impaired concentration, and brain damage. “ECT”
consent forms are a sham, since patients are misinformed or not informed of
most of these serious health risks. Women and the elderly, especially
elderly women, are the main targets. Electroshock is state-sanctioned
violence against women. Anti-shock campaigns advocating abolition are
growing in the United States (Texas, California), the United Kingdom, and
New Zealand. “ECT” should be universally and immediately banned

Involuntary committal is the psychiatric imprisonment of people labeled and
believed to be “mentally ill”, dangerous to themselves or others, and/or
“incapable”. Locking up citizens on the belief or opinion they might commit
a violent act or criminal offence – without being charged and denied a
trial – is preventive detention, which is prohibited in international law.
Many involuntary patients are poor or homeless, with little or no community
support. Although involuntary committal violates several rights in the
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (sections 7, 9,15), it is legal in
all provinces, all states in the United States and many European countries.

“leash laws”, psychiatrists have the power to force psychiatric patients to
be treated in the community – the treatment is usually powerful,
brain-damaging antidepressants and/or neuroleptics. If patients refuse to
obey community treatment orders (CTOs) or “take their meds” (sometimes
ordered by judges in the United States), they can be locked up again for
longer periods or indefinitely.  These psychiatric orders are enforced by
community treatment teams of mental health professionals. In Ontario,
patient appeals are rarely successful; CTOs may soon be challenged as
Charter violations.

Child psychiatrists frequently prescribe health-threatening antidepressants
and neuroleptics to young children (some as young as 2 or 3 years old) as a
treatment for “behavior disorder” or “mental illness”. Some researchers
have used children as guinea pigs in hi-risk drug experiments.  In Canada
and the United States, hundreds of thousands of children have been
fraudulently diagnosed with the label attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder (ADHD) or oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and prescribed
highly addictive stimulants like Ritalin.
The United States government’s national “teen screening” program targets
and tests youth suspected of being “mentally ill”. A similar program is
recommended in the current mental health report of the Canadian Senate
(“Out of the Shadows – Highlights and Recommendations”, 2006, p.19)

Adults and children labeled “non-compliant” or “unmanageable” are
frequently subjected to 2-point, 4-point and sometimes 5-point restraints
ordered by psychiatrists. 2-pointx restraints involve tying both wrists or
ankles; 4-point restraints involve tying both wrists and ankles; 5-point
restraints consist of tying the person’s wrists, ankles and waist -  very
similar to the shackles inflicted on prisoners in maximum security prisons.
Hundreds of patients have been seriously traumatized or died while
restrained (see “Deadly Restraint” series in The Hartford Courant).  Many
have also languished in “seclusion”, a form of solitary confinement.
“Seclusion rooms” exist on virtually all psychiatric wards and hospitals.
Patients experience restraints and seclusion as cruel and degrading
punishment or torture. Physically and chemically restraining children is
child abuse – a serious violation of the UN Convention Against Torture and
the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In April 2005, the Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault (CAPA), sponsored
four days of public hearings on the effects of psychiatric drugs and
electroshock Approximately 40 psychiatric survivors courageously testified
about many of these rights abuses and violations they personally
experienced. (see “Inquiry Into Psychiatry”: -

We demand that governments immediately call public hearings into these
psychiatric abuses – human rights violations the American Psychiatric
Association and Canadian Psychiatric Association minimize or deny – in the
name of “mental health”.

Prepared by the OCAP Accessibility Committee
Toronto, May 20, 2006

Endorsed by the Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault
(CAPA), Mindfreedom International, Common Front Legal Collective,
Psychiatric Survivors and Allies

Electric shock therapy outrage

Worcester News
Sept. 14, 2006

MENTAL health care patients in Worcestershire are given nearly 700 electric shock treatments a year, new figures have revealed.

According to the statistics, the controversial electroconvulsive therapy has been administered 3,400 times in Worcestershire since 2001 – more than any of the 27 health trusts nationwide that have provided figures apart from Leicestershire.

The therapy involves electrodes being attached to the head and an electric current being passed briefly though the electrodes to the brain, causing a seizure.

Surveys by the medical profession have highlighted serious long-term side-effects of the treatment – including brain damage, memory loss and intellectual impairment, while human rights campaigners have branded it “cruel and barbaric” and say it should only be given as a last resort.

But mental health care bosses say the figure equates to just 125 patients treated per year from a Worcestershire population of half a million.

The figures were obtained from the Worcestershire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust by the Citizens Commission On Human Rights (CCHR) under the Freedom Of Information Act. Commission spokesman Chris Wrapson described them as “extraordinary”.

He said: “Psychiatrists cloak shock treatment in medical legitimacy, the effects of which are horrific, and the full ramifications are not explained to the patients or families, The brutality of ECT shows psychiatry has not advanced beyond the cruelty and barbarism of its earliest treatment.”

A survey by the Royal College of Psychiatrists proved patients treated with electric shock therapy can suffer memory loss as a result.

Of the 1,344 psychiatrists surveyed, 21 per cent referred to long-term side from page one effects and risks of brain damage, memory loss and intellectual impairment.

GPs reported that 34 per cent of patients seen in the months after receiving electroconvulsive therapy were poor or worse.

But a spokesman for Worcestershire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust said: “The figure quoted by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights of 3,400 relates to approximately 680 administrations per year.

“Most administrations would have been given in batches of six per course of treatment, therefore, the figures relate to approximately 125 people being treated per year from a population of 542,107 in 2001 and a population of 555,832 in 2005.

“Each community mental health team has a caseload of 300 to 500 people at any time. Across the whole county that would be a figure in excess of 10,000 people being seen during that year, therefore, this equates to approximately one per cent or less of the people being treated.”

She added that the trust ensures that the therapy is carried out in accordance with the National Institute for Clinical Excellence guidance.

Turkey continues its use of unmodified electroshock

Details from the report on ECT use in Turkey, from CPT:

Full report:

C.        ECT and other psychiatry-related issues

1.         Preliminary remarks

58.       As already mentioned, one of the issues focussed on during the December 2005 ad hoc visit were the procedures for the administration of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in psychiatric establishments. This subject had been addressed in some detail in the report on the 1997 visit to Turkey (cf. CPT/Inf (99) 2, paragraphs 178 to 182). However, information recently received from various sources indicated that certain of the CPT’s recommendations had not yet been implemented, in particular as regards the discontinuance of the practice of unmodified ECT.  For the purpose of examining this question, the CPT’s delegation visited two State hospitals, Bakırköy Mental and Psychological Health Hospital in I˙stanbul (this establishment, the largest psychiatric establishment in Turkey, had previously been visited by the Committee in 1992 and 1997) and Adana Mental Health Hospital.

In addition to the above-mentioned subject, some comments will be made in this report on procedures relating to involuntary civil placement in psychiatric establishments and living conditions for patients at the Adana Hospital.

59.       At the outset, the CPT wishes to emphasise that relations between staff and patients in the two psychiatric hospitals visited were on the whole found to be positive and tension-free, and many patients spoke favourably about the manner in which they were treated by staff. This is all the more commendable in the light of the often low staffing levels and the paucity of the resources at the staff’s disposal.

However, some complaints were heard of the ill-treatment (notably slaps) of patients by orderlies at the Bakırköy Hospital; allegedly, such acts would occur in the event of a failure to take prescribed medication or of disobedience. Under no circumstances can methods of this kind be tolerated. The CPT recommends that the management of Bakırköy Mental and Psychological Health Hospital deliver the clear message to all categories of staff at the establishment that any form of ill-treatment of patients is unacceptable and will be the subject of severe sanctions.

2.         Electroconvulsive therapy

60.       Electroconvulsive therapy is a recognised form of treatment for psychiatric patients suffering from some particular disorders. However, like certain other forms of therapy, its administration must be accompanied by appropriate safeguards.

The CPT is particularly concerned when it encounters the administration of ECT in its unmodified form (i.e. without anaesthetic and muscle relaxants). As was emphasised in the report on the 1997 visit to Turkey, use of this outdated method entails a heightened risk of untoward medical consequences and can lead to situations which could justifiably be described as degrading.

The Committee also pays attention to whether ECT is being used for the proper indications and to the procedure for obtaining consent to this treatment.

61.       In their response to the report on the 1997 visit, the Turkish authorities stated that they were “paying close attention [to] the discontinuation of the practice of unmodified ECT”.[8] However, in spite of that assurance, the delegation which carried out the December 2005 visit observed a widespread use of unmodified ECT in the two psychiatric establishments in Adana and Bakırköy.

At Adana Mental Health Hospital, ECT is only used in its unmodified form. At the Bakırköy Hospital, there is a single ECT unit with a capacity of 10-15 patients per day, where a part-time anaesthesiologist makes modified ECT possible. However, the great majority of patients to whom ECT is administered at this hospital also receive the therapy in its unmodified form; of the total of 15,877 ECT sessions administered at Bakırköy in 2005, only 512 (i.e. some 3.2 per cent) were modified.

62.       Further, the information gathered by the CPT’s delegation at the Bakırköy Hospital indicated that ECT was being used in an even more extensive manner than had been observed during the 1997 visit. In some units, more than 60 per cent of patients had received ECT in 2005, and the therapy had been administered to 26 per cent of all patients admitted to the establishment during that year. In the CPT’s view, these figures indicate excessive resort to ECT.

Although the management of the Adana Mental Health Hospital was unable to provide the CPT’s delegation with precise statistics on the use of ECT for the whole hospital, it was obvious that ECT was also used extensively there. According to information received from the Director of the hospital, nearly 30 per cent of patients in a female unit had received ECT during the year 2004.

63.       The CPT wishes to make clear that its delegation did not gain the impression in either of the two establishments visited that ECT was being used in a punitive manner or that the patients perceived the treatment as such or had been threatened with ECT. However, the delegation did note that some patients who had received unmodified ECT developed a fear of the treatment, resulting, on occasion, in it being cancelled.

At Bakırköy, the delegation was repeatedly told that the reason for the extensive reliance on ECT was the lack of beds for the high number of patients in need of admission and treatment. From interviews with both patients and staff, it would appear that ECT was sometimes administered only a few times, until the patient was no longer agitated; such a treatment series could commence on the day of arrival of the patient to the hospital. The CPT is very concerned about any possible resort to ECT as a means of quickly subduing agitated patients; this would constitute an improper use of the therapy.

Neither of the two establishments had written policy guidelines regarding the administration of ECT.

64.       In both establishments, ECT was administered out of the sight of other patients, in rooms specifically set aside and equipped for this purpose. However, from interviews with patients at Bakırköy, it would appear that a patient about to be treated may see patients who have already been treated and who are lying unconscious or recovering. This is clearly not desirable.

65.       At the Bakırköy Hospital, recourse to ECT was, as a rule, recorded in both the patient’s medical file and a general ECT book kept on the ward, although at least one of the ECT books only indicated the start of the treatment without mentioning further sessions. At the Adana Hospital, while some wards did have ECT books, in other wards recourse to ECT was only recorded in the patient’s file. Moreover, even in those wards which possessed an ECT book, the registration of ECT sessions was incomplete. A specific (and properly completed) ECT register at ward-level will greatly facilitate supervision by hospital management and discussion with staff about practices followed.

66.       As regards the procedure for obtaining consent to ECT treatment, no written consent was obtained at the Adana Hospital. Special consent forms were used at the Bakırköy Hospital, often signed on admission by the patient, or, in most cases, by his or her guardian or next of kin. However, these forms were often undated, and in a few cases they were signed by the police transporting the patient to the hospital. Further, the examination of patients’ medical files revealed that in several cases no written consent was recorded; the delegation was told by the staff that in certain situations (e.g., in the event of difficulty contacting the patient’s family) the ECT consent form could be signed after the treatment had been started, or even after it had been concluded. It is also noteworthy that some patients did not seem to have been informed about the procedure or the possible benefits and risks involved.

In this connection, it must be stressed that all patients should, as a matter of principle, be placed in a position to give their free and informed consent to treatment, including ECT. The admission of a person to a psychiatric establishment on an involuntary basis should not be construed as automatically authorising treatment without his or her consent. Any derogation from this fundamental principle of consent to treatment should be based upon law and apply only in clearly and strictly defined exceptional circumstances. Of course, consent to treatment can only be qualified as free and informed if it is based on full, accurate and comprehensible information about the patient’s condition and the treatment proposed.

67.       To sum up, the CPT is seriously concerned by the current procedures for the administration of ECT observed in the Adana and Bakırköy Hospitals, and in particular by the continuing frequent recourse to this treatment in its unmodified form.

The Committee’s delegation was informed by the management of the Bakırköy Hospital that two new fully-fledged ECT units would be set up within the establishment in a few months. The Committee takes note of this development. The CPT would like to receive full information concerning these units (in particular, a detailed description of their equipment and staff resources) and to be informed of the planned date of their entry into service.

More generally, the CPT recommends that the Turkish authorities accord a high priority to ensuring that all psychiatric establishments in which ECT is used are provided with the necessary staff, equipment and facilities so that this treatment can be administered in its modified form (i.e. with both anaesthetic and muscle relaxants) and in an effective manner (preferably with the aid of an electroencephalogram).

Further, with a view to ensuring that ECT is only used for the proper indications and is carried out in an appropriate manner, the CPT recommends that a clear written policy on recourse to ECT be elaborated and distributed to each establishment where this treatment is used and that ECT be administered only by staff who have been specifically trained to provide it. As with other psychiatric treatment, recourse to ECT should be part of a written individualised treatment plan, included in the patient’s medical record.

68.       In the light of the other facts found during the visit, the CPT also recommends that:

-           the practical arrangements made for the use of ECT ensure not only that it is administered out of the sight of other patients but also that  patients waiting to be given ECT do not have sight of patients who have just received the treatment;

-           the indications for using ECT, the conditions under which it is administered and the outcome of each treatment session be set out in detail in a special register;

-           the written informed consent of the patient (or of the guardian, if the person concerned is declared incompetent by a court) to the use of ECT, based on full and comprehensible information, be sought and kept in the patient’s file and that, save for exceptional circumstances clearly and strictly defined by law, the treatment not be administered until such time as written consent has been obtained.

C.        ECT and other psychiatry-related issues



            Preliminary remarks





-           the clear message to be delivered to all categories of staff at Bakırköy Mental and Psychological Health Hospital that any form of ill-treatment of patients is unacceptable and will be the subject of severe sanctions (paragraph 59).



Electroconvulsive therapy





-           the Turkish authorities to accord a high priority to ensuring that all psychiatric establishments in which electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is used are provided with the necessary staff, equipment and facilities so that this treatment can be administered in its modified form (i.e. with both anaesthetic and muscle relaxants) and in an effective manner (preferably with the aid of an electroencephalogram) (paragraph 67);


-           a clear written policy on recourse to ECT to be elaborated and distributed to each establishment where this treatment is used and ECT to be administered only by staff who have been specifically trained to provide it. As with other psychiatric treatment, recourse to ECT should be part of a written individualised treatment plan, included in the patient’s medical record (paragraph 67);


-           the practical arrangements made for the use of ECT to ensure not only that it is administered out of the sight of other patients but also that  patients waiting to be given ECT do not have sight of patients who have just received the treatment (paragraph 68);


-           the indications for using ECT, the conditions under which it is administered and the outcome of each treatment session to be set out in detail in a special register (paragraph 68);


-           the written informed consent of the patient (or of the guardian, if the person concerned is declared incompetent by a court) to the use of ECT, based on full and comprehensible information, to be sought and kept in the patient’s file and that, save for exceptional circumstances clearly and strictly defined by law, the treatment not to be administered until such time as written consent has been obtained (paragraph 68).



            requests for information


-           full information concerning two new ECT units to be set up at the Bakırköy Hospital (in particular, a detailed description of their equipment and staff resources) and the planned date of their entry into service (paragraph 67).

Council of Europe Anti-Torture Committee publishes report on Turkey

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the prevention of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (CPT) has published today the report on its most recent visit to Turkey, in December 2005, together with the response of the Turkish Government. These documents have been made public at the request of the Turkish authorities.

During the December 2005 ad hoc visit, the CPT’s delegation reviewed the situation in practice as regards the treatment of persons held by the law enforcement agencies (police and gendarmerie) and assessed the day-to-day operation of the legal safeguards against ill-treatment currently in force. Attention was also given to developments in F-type (high-security) Prisons, in particular as regards communal activities for inmates and the regime applied to prisoners serving a sentence of aggravated life imprisonment. A third objective of the visit was to examine procedures for the administration of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in psychiatric establishments.

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Epidemic of doc suicides; psychiatrists lead the pack; reluctant to try ECT

An epidemic of doc suicides

September 5, 2006

BY JIM RITTER Staff Reporter
Chicago Sun Times

Dr. Harry Reiss’ career appeared to be thriving. The 43-year-old urologist was an assistant professor at New York University, an expert on impotence and author of 13 medical journal articles. Plus, his private practice was taking off.

But one day after seeing his last patient, Reiss got on the examining table, hooked up an IV and gave himself a fatal dose of the anesthetic thiopental.

Reiss was in despair over the recent deaths of both parents, said his wife, Carla Fine. And like many doctors, Fine said, “He had a very hard time asking for help.”

Between 100 and 150 doctors commit suicide in the United States each year — more than the graduating class of a typical medical school.

Harvard University researchers who compiled the results of 25 suicide studies concluded that male doctors are 1.4 times more likely than the general population to commit suicide, and female doctors are 2.3 times more likely.

Physician suicides occasionally make headlines:

•Dr. Nicholas Bartha died July 15 from injuries he suffered after blowing up his Manhattan town house. The internist apparently wanted to avoid selling the house in a divorce case. Shortly before the explosion, Bartha sent his ex-wife an e-mail that said: “I always told you I will leave the house only if I am dead.”

•On May 27, Dr. Edward Van Dyk, a radiation oncologist from Downstate Godfrey, jumped to his death from a Florida hotel balcony, moments after throwing off his two young sons. Authorities say he suspected his wife of having an affair with their gardener.

•In 2004, an Arkansas Children’s Hospital surgeon world-renowned for repairing infant heart defects killed himself with an overdose of pain-killers and bourbon. “Every day is a living hell!” Dr. Jonathan Drummond-Webb wrote in a five-page suicide note. “These people don’t care. I have a gift to save babies. The world is not ready for me.”

As far back as 1858, doctors in England observed that physicians had high suicide rates. But only recently have suicide experts begun to raise the alarm.

In 2003, an expert panel convened by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention recommended that medical schools, hospitals and licensing boards educate doctors about physician suicide and stop discriminating against doctors who get mental health treatments.

And at its 2006 annual meeting, the American Medical Association approved a resolution calling for increased awareness of the “preventable endemic catastrophe of physician suicide.”

Nevertheless, the medical community generally still continues to ignore the problem, said University of Chicago psychiatrist Dr. Morton Silverman, a member of the 2003 suicide panel. Physician suicide, Silverman said, “is not a priority.”

Doctors live longer and tend to have healthier lifestyles than the general public. But many neglect their mental health.

No evidence of added stress

“It’s a crazy paradox,” said Dr. Michael Myers, a University of British Columbia specialist in physician health. “We’re in the business of helping people. But we do a terrible job with ourselves.” Myers and Fine are co-authors of a new book, Touched by Suicide: Hope and Healing After Loss.

Doctors often are reluctant to seek treatment for depression or other mental disorders because they fear discrimination in medical licensing, hospital privileges and health and malpractice insurance.

Moreover, doctors who treat fellow physicians for mental disorders often are reluctant to order aggressive treatments such as hospitalization or electro-convulsive (“shock”) therapy. They fear that if the word gets out, it could harm the careers of their physician-patients.

“We are learning that trying to be too ‘nice’ to colleagues is sometimes not nice at all,” suicide experts wrote in a 2003 article in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Doctors work long hours and are increasingly hassled by paperwork and managed care. Yet there’s no evidence they are more stressed than other professionals.

Rather, the major risk factors for physician suicide are drug and alcohol abuse and psychiatric disorders such as depression. Female doctors have higher alcoholism rates than women in general, and psychiatrists, anesthesiologists and emergency physicians are among the specialists most likely to abuse drugs.

Other possible reasons

In a 2005 article in the New England Journal of Medicine, Harvard researcher Dr. Eva Schernhammer offered several other possible reasons for high physician suicide rates, especially among women:

•Doctors are more likely to blame themselves for their own illnesses.

•Doctors appear more likely to suffer clinical depression brought on by a major setback such as the death of a loved one, divorce or job loss.

•Compared with male doctors, more female physicians are single or childless, which are risk factors for suicide. Moreover, female doctors “may feel more stress than their male counterparts because of the difficulty of succeeding in a male-dominated profession,” Schernhammer wrote. Female doctors also might experience sexual harassment.

•Doctors have ready access to potentially lethal drugs, and their suicide attempts are more likely to succeed. For example, among all women, only one out of every 10 or 15 suicide attempts is successful. But among female doctors, there are more successful suicide attempts than unsuccessful ones.

Reiss knew exactly what he was doing when he hooked himself up to the fatal IV in 1989.

“The medical examiner said he was asleep in seconds and dead in minutes,” Fine said.

Fine described her husband’s suicide in her book, No Time to Say Goodbye: Surviving the Suicide of a Loved One.

“Harry was a wonderful healer,” Fine said. “If his death can help others, at least it won’t seem as senseless.”

Psychiatrist must pay $55,000 after sex abuse case

Tuesday August 29, 2006

By Martin Johnston

New Zealand Herald

Former New Zealand psychiatrist Dr Selwyn Leeks has been ordered to pay $55,000 in damages for sexually abusing a former patient.

The payment was ordered by an Australian court which found that Dr Leeks “took advantage … of a disturbed psychiatric patient”.

The 77-year-old is also being investigated by New Zealand police over claims by former child and youth patients that he abused them at Lake Alice Hospital near Wanganui in the 1970s.

He escaped a potentially damning disciplinary hearing before the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria last month by effectively surrendering his medical licence in return for the case being shelved.

A five-year investigation into complaints from 50 former Lake Alice patients found a case of unprofessional conduct to answer in 16 of them.

Dr Leeks, who left New Zealand in the late 1970s, is accused of punishing patients with electric shock therapy.

The sexual abuse claim was heard as a civil case in the Victoria County Court.

Judge Jim Duggan said in his verdict: “I conclude that a senior and well-credentialled psychiatrist took advantage of the vulnerability of a disturbed psychiatric patient for the purposes of sexual gratification.”

He awarded the woman $55,000 damages.

Dr Leeks said he had no recollection of the woman, and denied any sexual impropriety.

The Australian woman, who has had depression and anxiety and is now aged 54, claimed Dr Leeks fondled her breasts and put his finger into her vagina during consultations in 1979 or 1980.

She said that when she stopped her visits, he urged her not to disclose what he had done, telling her: “You’re a long-term psychiatric patient and no one will believe you.”

The judge said she made complaints to the police and the medical board, but “these were not taken any further”.

The board’s spokeswoman said yesterday its investigation had been halted by the court case, but it would now consider the judge’s ruling in deciding what action to take.

Steve Green, executive director of the anti-psychiatry group Citizens Commission on Human Rights NZ, said Judge Duggan’s ruling was the first public, official finding of wrongdoing by Dr Leeks. Mr Green said his group was helping 10 more former patients prepare complaints.

The Government has apologised to 183 former Lake Alice patients and paid them $10.7 million compensation.

New Zealand woman wins against abusive shock doc

Patient abused by Leeks awarded $A55,000

Wanganui Chronicle

A VICTORIAN County Court judge last week awarded a woman $A55,000 in damages after finding that psychiatrist Selwyn Leeks had taken advantage of her for his sexual gratification.

The woman was a psychiatric patient, The Melbourne Age reported.

Dr Leeks headed the Child and Adolescent Unit at Lake Alice Hospital, near Bulls, from 1972-77.

Australian judge Jim Duggan said the controversial doctor’s behaviour was reprehensible and a gross dereliction of duty.

The patient, whose history includes physical and sexual abuse and psychiatric illnesses, saw Dr Leeks about eight times in 1979 or 1980.

During the consultations, which became increasingly more sexual, he fondled her breasts and digitally penetrated her.

Dr Leeks claimed he had no recollection of the woman and denied any sexual impropriety.

But Judge Duggan said: “… this was a most serious series of assaults.

“The defendant grossly abused his position and took advantage of a particularly vulnerable patient.”

Dr Leeks, 77, recently undertook not to practise any more, avoiding an inquiry by the state’s medical board into allegations that he had used electric shock treatment to punish children and adolescents in New Zealand in the 1970s.

The board had been investigating the electric-shock allegations for seven years.

But after Dr Leeks promised to give up practising on the eve of a board hearing last month, the board wrote to 16 New Zealand complainants saying it had decided not to proceed with a formal hearing into his professional conduct.


Former Wanganui man Victor Boyd said the Australian finding against Dr Leeks was further evidence that what he was doing at Lake Alice Hospital in the 1970s was not medicine. Mr Boyd now lives in Auckland and is a researcher for the Citizens’ Commission on Human Rights, an organisation started by the Church of Scientology which investigates mental health treatments.

“The judge believed one of his former victims,” Mr Boyd said.

“What she said was taken seriously. It’s the first time that has happened.

“It’s a pity New Zealand authorities didn’t do a proper investigation in 1977. Instead he went off to Australia with a certificate of good standing from the Medical Council.”

New Zealand police were still interviewing some of Dr Leeks’ patients from the 1970s, and the cases of 34 of them are being reviewed. As a result, the psychiatrist may eventually be extradited to New Zealand to face charges. One former New Zealand patient has made allegations of sexual misconduct, but the bulk of New Zealand complaints are to do with physical abuses.

Forced shock in China over spiritual beliefs

Chris Bond
Yorkshire Post Today
August 24, 2006

Grandmother tortured by Chinese – all for her beliefs

Falun Gong is a spiritual movement that once had nearly 100 million followers in China. But since it was banned by the government, thousands of practitioners have been tortured and even killed.

ZHEN is perched on the edge of the sofa. If she sits back you fear her tiny frame may be swallowed up completely.

Listening to the softly-spoken grandmother it is difficult to comprehend how anyone could bring themselves to harm her – but they have.

The 66-year-old claims she’s been beaten, force fed and suffered electro-shock therapy at the hands of the Chinese police – all because of her beliefs.

Zhen is one of the lucky ones, though, she’s alive.

According to the Falun Dafa (Falun Gong) Information Centre, more than 2,300 followers of the meditation practice have been beaten and tortured to death while in detention in China, although Amnesty International believes the numbers imprisoned could run into tens of thousands.

The Chinese authorities have repeatedly denied allegations of brutality and murder and rejected recent, disturbing, reports of “organ harvesting”, but just what is Falun Gong?
The meditation practice, similar to Tai Chi, is based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance and involves a series of controlled exercises. It was introduced in China in 1992 and within seven years had as many as 100 million followers.

Among them was Zhen. Before a friend introduced her to it she claims she suffered various health problems, including anaemia, dermatitis and hepatitis which forced her to retire early. Within a few months of taking up Falun Gong, though, she says her ailments disappeared.

“After six months I became a new person,” she says.

Zhen was not alone in finding Falun Gong a life-changing experience and encouraged other family members to take it up.

But as its popularity soared, the Chinese authorities became increasingly nervous by what they perceived to be a growing cult and in July 1999 Falun Gong was banned from public life.

Since then the communist government has set about systematically eradicating the movement and has reportedly detained thousands of practitioners in “reform” centres where detainees are “rehabilitated”.

Many people, like Zhen, continued to practise Falun Gong and, despite the risks, joined fellow practitioners in Beijing to appeal against the ban only to be arrested.

“They used a lot of methods of torturing us, they beat us up and used electric shock treatment and I was locked up for 22 days,” she says. “They arrested so many there wasn’t enough space so eventually they let go the people who were over 60 and I was allowed out.”

A few days later she was informed she had been secretly sentenced and told the police were coming to arrest her.

“I left my home two hours before the police arrived,” she says. “They left the message that I must come home and be ‘transformed’ (give up Falun Gong], or they would arrest me.”

Along with her husband, she hid with relatives staying for no more than a couple of months in one place until a friend told her about a disused flat where they could stay.
“I learned ways of keeping safe, I dug a hole in the wall behind a shoe rack in the living room and we lived inside the next room.

“This way, if someone came into the flat they would see a layer of dust everywhere and wouldn’t think people were living there,” she says, speaking via an interpreter.
For the next two years they lived in a single room.

“I had to sleep on newspapers on the floor under a quilt, because there was a window and this way if somebody looked in they would just see the empty bed.

“Because the situation was very dangerous I had to gather water drop by drop so this way it would make no noise. Also I could only flush the toilet once a day when other people were asleep.

“We had to keep the windows closed all the time even in the summer when the weather was so hot. In the winter there was no heating and outside the weather was minus 20 degrees.”

Because their pension had been stopped they were forced to survive on what little savings they had.

“We didn’t have any vegetables during this time and because we had so little money we often went hungry. It felt like we had been given a life sentence.”

With the help of friends and relatives, though, the couple were able to buy two passports for £5,000, money raised by selling the family’s flat.

Last October, they escaped to the UK, where their two sons now live, and were granted asylum in May.

But although Zhen, she has changed her name to protect her family, is grateful to have escaped her own nightmare she still has relatives back in China, including one of her two grandchildren.

“I am one of the lucky ones,” she says. “Most of my fellow practitioners who used to practise with me were beaten or killed and some of them disappeared and we don’t know what happened to them.”

It is why she, and a group of fellow practitioners, are travelling throughout the country to raise awareness over the persecution of Falun Gong followers in her homeland.
This persecution has led to claims that Falun Gong practitioners have been used for organ harvesting.

Horrific photographs, reportedly smuggled out of China, show the bruised and battered bodies of alleged victims minus their eyes, with crude stitch marks showing where the organs have been removed.

Last month, Canada’s former Secretary of State David Kilgour and international human rights lawyer, David Matas, published a report into these allegations concluding that they believed large-scale organ removals was still happening.

This has been denied by the Chinese. A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy said there was no persecution of Falun Gong and that stories of organ harvesting were simply propaganda spread by practitioners.

“This is a big lie made by Falun Gong,” he said. “Falun Gong is banned in China and to survive outside China they need to make big lies from time to time.”

Edward McMillan-Scott is vice president of the European Parliament and one of six Euro MPs serving Yorkshire and Humber and has spoken to former Falun Gong prisoners.
He described the treatment of its followers in China as “one of the cruellest religious repressions in human history”.

The Tory MEP also believes there must now be an international inquiry into the allegations of brutality and organ harvesting.

Until this happens human rights campaigners fear that Falun Gong practitioners will continue to be persecuted.

It might be an emerging super power, but in the People’s Republic of China it seems not even grandmothers are safe.