AFTER a month-long period of incarceration in a South African state hospital without access to either an attorney or legal aid, Anthony Milne, a Mad Pride activist has escaped using MindFreedom’s underground railroad. His confinement under the country’s Mental Health Care Act of 2002 flies in the face of the recent ratification of UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was signed into law earlier this year.

Mindfreedom Ghana called for the immediate release of Anthony Milne and the unconditional return of his liberty. Dan Taylor speaking on behalf of the Mindfreedom International affiliate, one of the largest groups representing mental health users in Africa, said: “As a user organization based and operating in Accra, we feel very much concerned about these developments and have to condemn same in no uncertain terms. They are clearly in serious infringements of human rights and also run counter to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. And we are also sure that South Africa’s constitution and other laws do not permit such inhuman practices. We demand that those found culpable of subjecting him to these serious abuses of freedom be charged and that his right to choose the treatment he prefers, be reinstated forthwith.”

“I am writing to you as head of the Associated Psychiatric Hospitals (APH), to ask you to urgently consider the release of Anthony Milne from the male locked ward at Valkenberg hospital, where he is currently being held involuntarily and subjected to forced medication. Such practices are no longer in keeping with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” went the petition circulated by Moosa Salie, chairperson of World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry who first alerted the world to the human rights violation.

Terry Simpson Chair of UKAN – The United Kingdom Advocacy Network, a user controlled national federation of advocacy projects, patients’ councils, user forums and self-help and support groups working in the field of mental health also responded to a call for urgent assistance put out by members of the Cape Town Madness Network, a radical mental health collective tasked with lobbying for change, and an end to psychiatric coercion, freedom of choice in treatment and alternatives to psychiatry.

According to Simpson, Anthony was “quite lucid about his condition”, and clearly felt that he was not receiving any therapeutic interventions. “Under these circumstances forced medication will not help his condition, and will in all likelihood create trauma for which future help will be needed. I urge you to take an enlightened view of his case, to listen to what he is clearly saying, and to negotiate voluntary treatment with him, if he so desires.”

Despite South Africa’s patients rights charter which states that “a person may refuse treatment and such treatment shall be verbal or in writing provided that such refusal does not endanger the health of others” and the CRPD which has clauses promoting, protecting, and ensuring the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by persons with disabilities,” including self-determination, physical and programmatic access, personal mobility, health, education, employment, habilitation and rehabilitation, participation in political life, and equality and non-discrimination,” Milne’s involuntary hospitalisation was done without reference to these legal instruments and thus the abovementioned organisations feel entitled to participate in what some perceive as an act of defiance.

In fact, South Africa’s Mental Health Laws look as if they were written in a vacuum. Absolutely no mention is made of article 12 of the Bill of Rights which forbids detention without trial, and awards every citizen freedom of and control over the body. Instead of freedom, we now see citizens being treated with the same disdain for human rights as in the past.

“Exactly where protective custody begins and ends, is for the legal system to decide, but the administering of forced treatment is clearly something which needs to be resisted by all freedom-loving citizens and is more in keeping with practices by those nations with records of torture.” said David Lewis of the Maitland Ubuntu Centre. The incident involving Milne is in the process of being documented and reported to the UNHCHR and special rapporteur on torture, and Moosa Salie has been invited to a special conference organised by the rapporteur in Doha.

Milne is currently in hiding from the authorities and MindFreedom requests that members of the public help him in regaining his liberty and to assist the global campaign of defiance against involuntary hospitalisations, forced treatment and outpatient commitment wherever possible.