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Erminia Colucci

Faculty Member, Centre for Psychiatry, Queen Mary, University of London


Dr Erminia Colucci is the Lead and Lecturer in the MSc in Transcultural Mental Healthcare and MSc in Mental Health & Law at the Centre for Psychiatry. Prior to this, she was both a Research Fellow and Lecturer at the Global and Cultural Mental Health Unit, Centre for Mental Health (formerly Centre for International Mental Health) at The University of Melbourne (Australia).



Breaking the Chains is an ethnographic photo/film-documentary project about human rights violations against people with mentally illness (Director, cinematography, sound, editing by Erminia Colucci).


It consists of a photo-essay and three documentaries: ‘Breaking the chains’ (65 min, official release early 2014), ‘Breaking the chains: Anto’s story’ (currently in post-production) and ‘Breaking the chains: Human rights abuses against the mentally ill’ (currently in production).


‘Breaking the chains’ depicts the use of physical restraint and confinement of people with mental illness in Indonesia, a practice known as pasung in this country but widespread also in other low-middle income countries.


‘Breaking the chains’ contributes to an understanding of pasung, the reasons behind its practice, the issues that must be overcome and the social and political activism needed to eradicate this form of human rights abuse in countries all over the world.


The practice of physically restraining people with a mental illness by members of family or the community, almost invariably with no adequate treatment and always against their will, contravenes basic human rights principles. As result of this practice, thousands of people are estimated to live in isolation, chained, and/or inside “animal cages”, naked, undernourished and often living in their own excrement. The mental and physical consequences of these conditions (e.g. some people lose the ability to walk as result) are enormous.


Among the low-middle income countries with similar restraints, Indonesia is unique for having planned to scaling up the Bebas Pasung (Free from Pasung) program at a national level. This program, which locates and releases victims of pasung and arranges treatment, represents a major mental health and human rights advance. Indonesia’s Ministry of Health has also committed to ending pasung throughout the country by 2015.


Pasung has until now remained largely undocumented by the international media. ‘Breaking the Chains’ is a first of its kind documentary which situates pasung in the socio-cultural-political situation of Indonesia and gives voice to people with a mental illness in Indonesia and throughout the world who are living under similar restraints.


The documentary also tells an original story about the social and political activism being carried out at several levels (from consumer volunteer organizations, to the pasung survivors and their communities) in order to eradicate this form of human rights abuse and give freedom and dignity to people with a mental illness.


By showcasing the current social and political activism happening in Indonesia, ‘Breaking the Chains’ aims to stimulate and encourage movement and reaction, not only in other countries around the world where similar practices that deny the basic human rights and promote abuses are presently occurring, but also intends to increase awareness and stimulate action and advocacy for human rights on a global level.