The results of an investigation into claims that a group of 18 protesting farmers from the city of Xintai, Shandong province, were sent to a mental hospital will likely be made known in two or three days' time, officials said Wednesday.
An official with the publicity department of the city of Tai'an, which governs Xintai, told China Daily that the investigation was nearing completion.
Qin Aimin, a press official with the State Bureau of Letters and Calls, which deals with complaints from the public, said: "We are pushing the local government to submit an investigation report as soon as possible."
A report on the Hong Kong-based news website, www.stnn.cc, said on Tuesday that five of the 18 farmers were mentally ill according to medical records kept at provincial psychiatric institutions.
They five named were Sun Fawu, Shi Hengsheng, Xu Xueling, Li Pingrong and Li Yuanliang.
The Tai'an official declined to comment on the report.
The mental hospital to which the five were sent, and which is treating three others, declined to give any information about them.
Calls to the Xintai bureau of letters and the judicial and law enforcement committee went unanswered Wednesday.
Beijing News reported on Monday that 18 people from Xintai had been detained over the past two years for making repeated appeals to authorities in the capital to handle local disputes.
They were released only if they admitted to being mentally ill and signed a pledge not to submit any more petitions, the paper said.
Sun, 57, told China Daily Wednesday that he had never been certified as being mentally ill.
"I have worked for 34 years and nobody ever accused me of being crazy," he said.
"I have spent eight years appealing for compensation for damage caused to my land by a local coal mine.
"I have spent more than 40,000 yuan ($5,900) on trips to Beijing to lodge appeals.
"I have received nothing, besides accumulating debts and an alleged mental illness," Sun said.
Cheng Sulan, a professor with the school of agricultural economics and rural development, Renmin University, said how to properly handle petitions was a top task for local governments.
"We should let farmers voice their grievances through proper channels. If local governments can resolve their problems, there would be fewer petitions," he said.