Czechia: Reports expose shocking use of mechanical restraints in psychiatric institutions
A psychiatric hospital in Opava, Czechia, kept a young woman in mechanical restraint for over 12-years. The story was exposed by a Czech human rights activist, supported by Validity, who managed to obtain reports of monitoring visits in 2018 of Czech psychiatric hospitals conducted as a part of a programme of psychiatric reform. The reports had been ordered to be kept confidential, and the Ministry of Health denied their existence for years in an attempt to cover their content.
One young woman with autism had been found to have been held in mechanical restraint since her childhood for an almost uninterrupted period of over a decade. Long-term institutionalisation and restraint were presented to her and her family as the only options to care for her needs. To this day, the Czech mental health care system offers few alternatives to hospitalisation, and remains imbued by numerous inhuman methods including seclusion and restraint, as documented in the monitoring reports.
The story also exposes a shocking failure of the Czech justice system and the ineffectiveness of its safeguards against torture and ill-treatment. The court that regularly approved the restraint never visited the young woman. Her situation was not uncovered by the Ombudsperson’s monitoring visits, either. There are no other independent controls in these hospitals.
Zuzana Durajová, a Czech mental health and disability lawyer, said: “According to the reporters, the patient was discovered by the inspection by accident. Is there a possibility that there are still patients with similar stories in other institutions? There is a desperate need to establish independent and regular monitoring of psychiatric institutions.”
Steven Allen, executive director of Validity, said: “The reports show, once again, that torture, ill-treatment and other human rights violations remain commonplace in Czechia’s system of psychiatric institutions. It is concerning to see the inertia and opposition to closing these abusive settings. The so-called ‘reform’ process has been going on for years with little appreciable outcome, calling into question the Czech government’s commitment to its obligations under international human rights law.”
Following the 2018 visit, the hospital complied with urgent calls of the monitoring team and released the young woman from restraint. Nevertheless, she remains institutionalised and without appropriate redress. Despite clear condemnation by international bodies, including the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities1 and the UN Special Rapporteur Against Torture, the practice of mechanical restraint remains widespread.
Validity renews its calls on the Czech Government to decisively ban all coercive psychiatric practices, in accordance with international law. Clear steps must be taken to provide redress and reparations to victims of practices including physical, chemical and mechanical restraint, as well as forced detention and institutionalisation on the basis of disability. The national system of psychiatric care must be fundamentally reformed, instead directing efforts to providing support for persons with psychosocial disabilities to live in the community. During the closure process, it is essential that psychiatric institutions are continuously and rigorously assessed by independent monitors to ensure that cases of similar abuse are exposed, punished and that victims obtain appropriate redress.
Photo credit: Mechanical restraint, Anna Košlerová, Český rozhlas