Monday, January 20, 2014

The Star Online: Metro: South & East

Posted: 20 Jan 2014 01:42 AM PST

Beijing (AFP) - A wire connected to his genitals, a Chinese man says doctors administered repeated electric shocks as he watched a pornographic film -- part of treatment he hoped would eliminate his sexual attraction to men.

"I thought I'd try and see if there was a chance I could become a normal person," said the 25-year-old, who asked to be identified only by his surname Zhang.

"I didn't want to cause my family trouble, or disappoint them."

Zhang's treatment shows the extreme end of a lucrative industry in China claiming to "correct" the sexualities of gay men and lesbians, who often face tremendous social pressures to live as heterosexuals.

"If I had a reaction (to the films) I would receive a shock," said Zhang, who said he paid for the initial treatments himself after deciding life as a gay man would be "too tough".

"It wasn't a massive shock, but it was painful."

China officially classed homosexuality as a mental disorder as recently as 2001, although some attitudes -- especially in larger cities -- have become more tolerant in recent years.

Nonetheless gay men and lesbians in China, who are often only children, still have to deal with their parents' expectations of marriage and children.

"Conversion therapy", as it is sometimes known, has more than a century of history around the world, but has fallen out of favour with medical authorities.

It persists in countries from Singapore to Britain and the United States -- where reports of electro-shock use have added to momentum for a ban.

Zhang was treated three years ago, but five clinics contacted by AFP in the last month claimed to offer "sexuality adjustment" through various means, some of them including hypnosis, drugs and electric shock therapy.

The Haiming Psychological Consulting Centre in Beijing touts the use of electricity on its website, saying: "After each shock, the person will quickly interrupt their thought, and separate from their fantasies."

A member of staff at the hospital told AFP that the shock treatment -- in 30-minute sessions every few days -- was used only "in extreme circumstances".

The American Psychological Association, which judges same-sex sexual and romantic attraction to be "normal and positive", concluded in 2009 that "efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm".

The Pan American Health Organization, the Americas office of the UN's WHO, said in a 2012 report that conversion therapies "lack medical justification and are ethically unacceptable".

California banned the practice -- often linked to Christian groups who view homosexuality a sin -- for minors last year, and other US states look set to follow its lead following an activist campaign.

Now Chinese groups are following their lead. Beijing's LGBT Center said in a statement last month that such methods "deeply damage homosexuals' physical and mental health, and worse infringe on their self-respect".

Two activists connected with the Center, which is partly funded by the US and British embassies, posed with a sign reading "Homosexuality is not an illness" outside a clinic they said offered conversion therapy, and hope to persuade health authorities to revoke such facilities' licences.

Some clinics are moving towards counselling and prescribing anti-depressant drugs, said Wei Xiaogang, founder of the Beijing-based "Queer Comrades" group.

"Now it's more like therapy, like talking, because people want to make money, it's all about business," he said.

Several clinics contacted by AFP said that they saw homosexuality as changeable in people for whom it was not "innate".

But Liu Wei, 21, a salesman in the southern province of Guangdong, said: "I have a lot of friends who received the treatment, it has made some of them nervous wrecks".

He visited a hospital last month to ask about treatment under pressure from his father, he said, and a doctor told him his sexuality could be changed "if I made a decision to break up with my partner, and dedicate myself to the method".

The physician told Liu to "watch films and when I fantasised, use an elastic band wrapped around my hand to hurt myself".

Even the doctor admitted the success rate was low, he said, but he was still considering it because his family relationships were "very tense".

For Zhang, the treatment first killed his sex drive but went on to exact a greater toll -- he became depressed, resigned from his job, went into debt to pay his medical fees, and eventually considered suicide, he said.

"I was suffering from headaches, I couldn't stand it, I wanted to die, I wanted to stop."

But ultimately he accepted that his sexuality could not be changed, and came out to his father.

"Later I thought about my whole life, I was like this from a young age," he said. "Being gay isn't a terrible thing, I think." - AFP

Posted: 20 Jan 2014 01:03 AM PST

Hanoi (AFP) - Vietnam on Monday sentenced 30 drug smugglers to death in the communist country's largest ever narcotics case, involving scores of defendants and nearly two tons of heroin, a judge said.

The 30 men and women, all Vietnamese, were found guilty of drug trafficking and given the death penalty while a further 59 defendants were handed sentences ranging up to life in prison in connection with the case, presiding judge Ngo Duc told AFP.

"This was Vietnam's largest ever trial in terms of defendants, the number of death penalties given out and the amount of heroin involved," Duc told AFP after the verdict was read out in the northern province of Quang Ninh -- which borders China.

"Because of the large number of defendants and the seriousness of the case, the trial was held at the prison," judge Duc added.

The trial, which lasted 17 days, began on January 3 this year.

Investigators said that the defendants belonged to four international smuggling rings responsible for trafficking heroin and other drugs from neighbouring Laos into Vietnam and China since 2006.

One of the leaders of the smuggling rings remains at large, state media reported.

Police busted the rings in August 2013 making mass arrests and seizing large quantities of illegal drugs.

Communist Vietnam has some of the world's toughest drug laws. Anyone found guilty of possessing more than 600 grams of heroin, or more than 20 kilograms of opium, can face the death penalty.

Convictions and sentences are usually revealed only by local media which is strictly under state control.

The "golden triangle" region of Laos, Thailand and Myanmar was formerly one of the world's top producers of illicit opium and heroin but has been overtaken by Afghanistan.

Posted: 19 Jan 2014 07:57 PM PST

WELLINGTON (AFP) - A strong 6.3-magnitude earthquake rattled New Zealand Monday, swaying buildings and spilling goods from shelves, but authorities said there were no immediate reports of major damage. The quake, which struck at 3:52pm (0252 GMT), was centred in the North Island about 115 kilometres (71 miles) northeast of the capital Wellington, according to the US Geological Survey.

The tremor hit at a depth of 27 kilometres and was widely felt throughout the North and South islands. It was followed by a series of smaller aftershocks.

New Zealand is on the boundary of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates, forming part of the so-called "Ring of Fire", and experiences up to 15,000 tremors a year.

A devastating 6.3-magnitude temblor in the South Island city of Christchurch in 2011 killed 185 people - one of the tiny nation's deadliest disasters of the modern era.

Wellington was the scene of the country's most powerful earthquake in 1855.

That devastating 8.2-magnitude quake caused four deaths and changed the city's entire geography, pushing the shoreline out 200 metres (660 feet) as it thrust the harbour floor upwards.

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