Breaking The Chains

Breaking the Chains is an ethnographic photo/film-documentary project about human rights violations against people with mentally illness.

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.

Breaking the Chains 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.


‘Breaking the chains: Anto’s story‘ is a testimony-style short-documentary that depicts the subjective lived experience of Anto, a young man who was restrained but was then released and reintegrated in the community as a self-taught artist and English student.

In ‘Breaking the chains: Human rights abuses against the mentally ill’ experts present the issue of human rights and mental health on the international scene.

The ‘Breaking the chains’ project is a collaboration with the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology and the Centre for International Mental Health (The University of Melbourne).