By William Shea
uman rights campaigners from throughout the United States recently joined fellow advocates from around the world in Los Angeles to acknowledge five exceptional individuals for achievements in protecting and advancing fundamental freedoms.
The event, held in the spring of 1996, marked the 27th anniversary of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, an organization which over the years has emerged as the worlds foremost champion of individual rights in the field of mental health. More than 400 leaders in and supporters of the cause of human rights attended the event, where CCHRs annual Human Rights Awards were presented.
CCHR is dedicated to investigating, exposing and eradicating human rights violations in what is arguably the most corrupt and oppressive sector of society spanning all international boundaries the field of psychiatry.
Established by the Church of Scientology, CCHR today operates from 128 offices in 28 countries around the world, including active chapters in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and many other U.S. cities.
It works closely with other concerned groups and community leaders to document the destructive effects of violent treatments such as electric shock, and to strengthen the rights of those threatened by psychiatric abuse, whether for political, financial, religious or other motives.
Attendees traveled from as far away as Australia and South Africa for the anniversary celebration. Among special guests was Senator Diane Watson, head of the California Senate Committee for Health and Human Services.
Award recipients included television journalist Makis Triantafylopoulos of Athens, Greece, who exposed inhuman conditions inside a Greek psychiatric facility. Triantafylopoulos discovered children shackled to beds by their ankles and adults who had been held prisoner for as long as 30 years. His persistence in the face of opposition led to official investigations and closure of a ward.
Actor, composer, musician, and long-time human rights advocate Isaac Hayes was presented with the CCHR Human Rights Award for his actions to help end psychiatric injustices in South Africa.
Also recognized were Carolyn Steinke, president of American Parents Involved in Education, a grassroots group working to end psychiatrys and psychologys destructive influence in education and to return education to proper academic standards, and Fred Baughman Jr., M.D., a pediatrician and neurologist who has educated parents, teachers and others about the harmful effects of psychiatric labeling and drugging of schoolchildren.
The final award went to Dr. Ziba Jiyane, member of parliament in South Africa, for his role in getting the Health Minister to establish a committee of inquiry to investigate conditions in psychiatric institutions established under the now-ousted apartheid government.
In his acceptance speech, Dr. Jiyane said, As a person who has struggled against the evil system of apartheid, I knew that the liberation of black persons in South Africa was not enough. So, when I became aware of the abuses in the mental health hospitals, I recognized the same propensity for one group to deny basic human rights to another.
When the committee of inquiry published its report in February 1996, it noted that under psychiatric care, blacks were being treated as subhuman ... [and] made to bear conditions from which we protect even the worst criminals in society.
The committee also found widespread evidence of sexual abuse at the camps, while nurses claimed death certificates had been falsified to hide neglect.
The apartheid government had maintained these institutions since 1963, allowing them to be run by private interests. The government guaranteed a 90 percent occupancy rate, with payment made on a per-head basis. Psychiatrists entrusted with care of the patients subjected them to barbaric treatment including electric shock without anesthetic and allowed them to die from easily treatable physical illnesses.
Abuses at the camps were unearthed by the South African edition of Freedom and members of CCHR more than 20 years ago. Vested interests in the then government tried to cover up the psychiatrists crimes and even went so far as to ban news coverage of the camps, located in old mining compounds where inmates were exploited as slave labor, working long hours to make coat hangers, wire brushes, mats and other articles without pay. The extraordinary death rate was later labeled in the South African press as mental genocide.
The government under Nelson Mandela has recommended sweeping reforms to prevent such abuses from happening again.
Protecting the Rights of the Innocent
Speakers at the event described highlights of CCHRs history. The organization has itself earned many accolades for its accomplishments over the years in its crusade to help individuals brutalized by psychiatry and to protect the rights of the innocent.
Its first case involved Victor Gyory, a man who had immigrated to the United States from Hungary in 1956 after Soviet forces invaded that country. Gyory spoke very little English.
While employed as a dining room assistant in Pennsylvania in 1969, Gyory was found by his supervisor with superficial cuts on his face and arms. After being taken to a local facility for treatment of the injuries, Gyory was transferred to Haverford State Hospital. A psychiatrist there described Gyory as not very coherent and wrongfully diagnosed his Hungarian prayers and genuflections as signs of mental illness.
Psychiatric staff stripped Gyory, administered drugs and placed him in an isolation cell without food. Ignoring his protests and pleas for an attorney, the institution then started electric shock treatments.
Gyory managed to communicate to an orderly how desperately he wanted to stop the brutal shock treatments. The aide contacted the fledgling Citizens Commission on Human Rights, which stepped in and filed a lawsuit on Gyorys behalf.
Dr. Thomas Szasz, fluent in Hungarian, talked to Gyory and assessed the situation. His finding: Gyorys plight had been caused by the language barrier, not by any mental illness. The treatment had been completely unnecessary.
The hospital released Gyory to the custody of CCHR.
Bringing Justice to an Unjust, Corrupt, Wasteful System
Today, from Canada to Australia, from Sweden to South Africa, Scientologists and CCHR campaign tirelessly to investigate, expose and eradicate violations of human rights.
Through the years, CCHR spokespersons have conducted effective public education campaigns to alert people to the harm caused by drugs, electric shock and other psychiatric treatments, using newspapers, magazines, electronic media and a wide variety of public events to bring the message directly to the public.
CCHR has worked with law enforcement officials, agencies concerned about health insurance fraud, district attorneys, attorneys general, health departments, members of parliament and other legislators and officials to bring about changes in the field of mental health around the world.
In the 1970s, CCHR provided California legislators with documents and witnesses which led to the exposure of more than 100 unreported deaths at two state psychiatric institutions.
In the 1980s, CCHR investigated and exposed the use of deep sleep at the Chelmsford psychiatric facility in Sydney, Australia. Victims were kept in a drug-enforced comatose state for weeks at a time, during which the psychiatrists repeatedly battered them with brain-damaging electric shocks. Deep sleep was subsequently banned and a Royal Commission, the highest form of government inquiry in Australia, was convened to follow up on CCHRs charges.
The campaign by CCHR in relation to Chelmsford and to obtain a Royal Commission was the most sustained and thorough exercise in whistle-blowing, investigatory reporting and public interest work in the history of this country bar none! declared Patrick Griffin, attorney with Sydneys Public Interest Advocacy Centre, a nonprofit organization which represented many of Chelmsfords unwitting victims.
In 1986, a report of the United Nations Human Rights Commission acknowledged that CCHR has been responsible for many great reforms. At least 30 bills throughout the world, which would otherwise have inhibited even more the rights of mental patients, or would have given psychiatry the power to commit minority groups and individuals against their will, have been defeated by CCHR actions.4
CCHR has been instrumental in securing the release from mental hospitals of patients who were held there against their will. It has brought about public awareness of the existence of the many abuses in the psychiatric field....
It has exposed unsanitary conditions and illegal activities in mental hospitals, which were then corrected by health and hospital corporations.
All over the world, branches of CCHR offered help to members of parliaments to increase their awareness of mental health situations, so that actual reform could occur.
Due in part to CCHRs efforts, the United Nations in December 1991 adopted principles and guidelines for humane treatment of those in psychiatric institutions. They called upon all nations to restore human rights through appropriate legislative, judicial, administrative, education and other measures.
CCHR is today recognized worldwide as a relentless and effective foe of those who would destroy individuals under the banner of mental health. It will continue its work to ensure that justice is served wherever violations of basic human rights occur.