Category Archives: weaponizing psychiatry

Neo-Soviet Russia Continues to Weaponize Psychiatry

The Other Russia reports:

A Russian opposition activist, who says he was confined against his will to a mental hospital, [was ordered to] remain in the facility after a St. Petersburg court ruled in favor of his compulsory treatment on March 15th.  According to the ZAKS.ru online newspaper (Rus), Vadim Charushev is well known as the creator of several political web-resources and social networking groups.

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Annals of Weaponizing Psychiatry: Another one Bites the Dust

The Moscow Times reports:

An opposition activist has been locked up in a psychiatric hospital in the Tver region, two colleagues and a hospital official said Monday.

Roman Nikolaichik, 27, a lawyer and member of Garry Kasparov’s Other Russia coalition, was detained in Tver on Friday, questioned about his political activities and subsequently taken to a psychiatric hospital, where he remained Monday, said Maxim Novikov, head of the coalition’s branch in Tver.

The account was confirmed by Yevgeny Svetovidov, a spokesman for a monarchist movement, ARES, of which Nikolaichik is a member. A woman who answered the telephone at Litvinov Psychiatric Hospital No. 1 in the Tver region town of Busharevo said Nikolaichik was being held in an isolation ward. She refused to connect him with a reporter but confirmed that he had been admitted Friday.

Nikolaichik’s detention echoes similar cases over the past year that human rights organizations have criticized as a step toward Soviet-era repression tactics. In December, human rights groups said Andrei Novikov, a reporter for a news service connected to the Chechen separatist government, had been released after nine months in a psychiatric hospital. Last summer, Larisa Arap, an Other Russia activist and journalist, spent six weeks in a psychiatric clinic.

Which law enforcement agency questioned Nikolaichik and sent him to the hospital was unclear Monday. Novikov and Svetovidov said Tver region prosecutors tried to charge Nikolaichik with attempted murder while questioning him on Monday. Svetovidov, citing Nikolaichik’s relatives, said that after questioning, a doctor declared the activist mentally unstable and ordered him to undergo treatment. Prosecutors denied questioning Nikolaichik or sending him to the hospital. “If there was a murder case against him, we would know about it,” said Galina Malyuta, a spokeswoman for the Tver region prosecutor’s office. Calls to Nikolaichik’s cell phone went unanswered.

Nikolaichik was a regular participant in the so-called Dissenters’ Marches, the Other Russia rallies that have often been broken up by baton-wielding police. Svetovidov said Nikolaichik had been targeted because he appeared on a list of Other Russia candidates for December’s State Duma elections. He said law enforcement officials had been pressuring him to leave the group since September. Nikolaichik has a wife and three children, Novikov said. They could not be located for comment Monday.

Neo-Soviet Russia Re-Weaponizes Psychiatry at a Rapid Rate

Paul Goble reports:

The forcible incarceration of political dissidents in psychiatric hospitals, one of the most notorious features of the later years of the Soviet Union, has been revived in the Russian Federation of Vladimir Putin, according to Russian human rights activists. But until very recently, these actions have not sparked the kind of outrage by foreign governments and international psychiatric and human rights organizations that forced the Soviet authorities to release some of the dissidents it had treated in this way. And as a result, Russian officials may now believe they can get away with reviving the practice. Part of the reason for this difference in reaction, of course, arises from the end of the Cold War, but it also reflects the fact that so far, the victims of such official actions are fewer in number, live far from Western embassies and journalists in Moscow, and espouse views less sympathetic to Western audiences than many of their Soviet-era predecessors did. And in the words of one Russian human rights activist, Moscow’s failure to denounce the Soviet practice and punish those who engaged in it, something Western governments notably have not insisted upon, plays an additional role, leading some Russian psychiatrists to believe that there is nothing wrong in going along with their political matters.

Now, however, the international organization devoted to combating torture has taken up the case of a young man who has been subjected to forcible psychiatric treatment apparently for no reason other than that he opposes the authoritarian and arbitrary actions of the Putin-installed leadership of the Middle Volga Republic of Mari El. That groups criticism has prompted more media coverage in Moscow, including an extensive article in this week’s New Times that has been picked up by a variety of media watchdog sites, human rights groups, including Press-Attache.ru. That article details the criminal mistreatment of 20-year-old Artem Basyrov, who two years ago was a member of the National Bolshevik Party but more recently has worked with “The Other Russia.” At the end of last month, he was confined in a psychiatric hospital against his will, to prevent him from organizing an anti-government demonstration.

Given the brutality of the Mari El government, one that various European institutions have concluded routinely beats or even kills its opponents, its decision to subject Basyrov to forcible psychiatric treatment is hardly surprising, but because it recalls a phenomenon most had thought had ended along with Soviet power, it is disturbing. According to Roman Chorniy, the president of the St. Petersburg-based Civil Commission for Human Rights, the authorities apparently now find this practice attractive because it is easy for them to employ — they only have to get the approval of three often tame psychiatrists and can muddy the waters via planted stories in the media. And he notes that Basyrov is hardly the only Russian citizen against whom such vicious methods are being used. He points to the case of political activist Larisa Arap in Murmansk in Russia’s Far North and that of Vladislav Nikitenko in Blagoveshchensk near the Chinese border, both far removed from Moscow. Chorniy adds that, in his view, the authorities may ultimately use this technique against Nikolai Andrushenko, a St Petersburg journalist whose activities and whose suffering at the hands of the authorities in other ways have been far better documented and who may thus escape the worse fate of the others. “When we see this type of situation,” Chorniy told “New Times,” we are compelled to ”think about it as a system” rather than a set of isolated instances, as many in both Russia and the West have been telling themselves. And that, he suggested, means that everyone concerned about human rights needs to reflect on why such crimes have reemerged. “All those psychiatrists and their pupils, who were directly involved in practicing punitive psychiatrist” never suffered legally for what they did and never even had to acknowledge in public that such actions were morally wrong. As a result, it is quite likely that many of them still believe such actions are justified.

And thus, Western indifference so far combined with the attitudes of these “survivals of the past” have created a situation where as Chorniy said “we see the revival of punitive psychiatry,” the use of an important branch of the medical profession for goals entirely at odds with the principles of the Hippocratic oath.

EDITORIAL: Suicide Isn’t Painless

EDITORIAL

Suicide Isn’t Painless

We reported last week on yet another instance in neo-Soviet Russia of an opposition activist being yanked off the street and chucked into a psychiatric gulag. It seems that the Kremlin may really have convinced itself that anyone who would think of criticizing them is “crazy” and needs medication, just as the old Politburo had done.

And maybe they’re right.

Garry Kasparov sure seems to have gotten the message. The Moscow Times reported last week that after being arrested and having his wife and child harassed at the Sheremetvo airport with “document checks” until their plane had departed without them, and after the Kremlin denied his “Other Russia” party access to every meeting hall in Moscow for their nominating convention (as well as harassing them when they sought to bury one of their fallen comrades) he decided not to run for president after all.

It’s easy to criticize Garry’s decision as pathetically weak and cowardly, which it certainly was. After all, a really committed group of people could meet in barn or a forest clearing for that matter. Look at what Russia accomplished during the Siege of Leningrad. In India, Gandhi organized millions to march in bare feet and stand down rifles with bare hands.

But anyone who has lived in Russia knows how the country can tax your strength and exhaust your resolve. Many have plunged into Russia, like Warren Beatty’s character in Reds, full of idealism and illusion only to find their bubbles burst, and then their worlds. What beat Kasparov is not Vladimir Putin’s goons, but the people of Russia themselvs — whose unflagging, craven apathy, cowardice, indifference and complicity force one to ask the question: “Are these people really worth fighting for, much less risking your life to save?”

Lilia Shevtsova of the Carnegie Foundation, one of Russia’s last remaining heroes, has concluded that the Russian people have decided to commit suicide, that they’ve simply given up on the idea of making life better in Russia. She states: “After the presidential election, we will have an utterly weak, destroyed parliament, a destroyed multi-party system, a wrecked constitution, and finally a weak presidency, which he requires for his self-proclaimed role as leader.” And the Russian people will have stood idly by and watched it all happen. In the space of just a few weeks, Putin negated the presidency by moving towards the prime ministry and negated the legislature by filling it with a single sycophantic party. A judiciary was never allowed to establish itself, the media establishment was brutally, physically crushed, and local government was negated long ago when Putin seized control over the governors. Russian parents have committed the one unpardonable sin of parenthood, to condemn their children to live out past mistakes.

L’etat, c’est Putin.

Did Russians know when they allowed Putin to take power that he would obliterate all the branches of government? How could they not have known? The only reason the people of Russia ever heard of Putin was that Boris Yeltsin introduced them. The people despised Boris Yeltsin, yet they voted overwhelmingly for his successor. Perhaps they felt that, vile though he was, if an anti-Communist maverick like Yeltsin could sell his soul to the devil and be responsible for bringing the KGB back to power only a few years after it had destroyed the USSR, then there really was no hope for Russia at all.

Putin is doing exactly what one would expect him to do as a proud KGB spy steeped in propaganda and able to think in only one way — he’s repeating the mistakes of the past. Just as Lenin made no provision for a successor, causing the nation to collapse into Stalinism and ultimate destruction when he passed away, Putin too is putting all Russia’s eggs in one basket, his own, as if he would live forever. He won’t.

And yet, there is no sign that Putin has any overarching commitment to any sort of idealism, as Lenin had. So we must ask: Is Putin simply part of the suicide movement, its instrumentality? Anders Aslund reported last week in the Moscow Times on information regarding Putin’s personal corruption that has begun circulating on the Internet. Aslund states: “The strongest evidence is the Marina Salye report on Putin’s corrupt foreign trade deals in St. Petersburg in 1992. The report has long been known, but the original has not been publicized until now. Two days before the election, a scanned report of the original popped up on several Russian web sites, and it suggested that Putin and his friends embezzled $92 million during the days he worked under St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak. It was first leaked on the free-wheeling livejournal.ru, which was quickly bought by Alexander Mamut, a Kremlin-friendly oligarch.” Previously, Aslund had reported speculation that Putin’s personal wealth may now be in the billions.

So perhaps Putin doesn’t even care about Russia in his own warped sense of “patriotism,” but rather has concluded with the rest of his countrymen that the nation can’t and won’t survive, so grab what you can.

Russia’s demographic issues do indeed seem insoluble. Every year during Putin’s rule the workforce has grown smaller and the adult lifespan has grown shorter. The disparity between rich and poor has grown wider, and Russia’s enemies have grown more numerous. Russia can’t count a single major nation of the world as its true friend, and the rogue states like Iran and Venezuela with which it has courted alliances could stab Russia in the back at any moment.

Then there’s China. It’s impossible to imagine a scenario under which Russia will be able to safeguard its increasingly unpopulated Siberian territory from the expanding Chinese juggernaut, and with that territory will go the lion’s share of Russia’s oil resources. Without its oil, which will run out some day in any case, Russia cannot even present the illusion of a nation.

Of course, Russia could surrender Siberia to China and begin to operate a civilized society along the lines of prosperous former Soviet slave states like Poland and Czech Republic. But doing so would require one thing Russia seems to lack: a population that loves the country and wants to make sacrifices and take risks and shoulder heavy burdens to help it prosper. Russians always seem to want to take the easy way out, perhaps because they themselves don’t believe they are worth saving.

And maybe they’re right.

Russia, after all, isn’t India. It doesn’t seem that the people of Russia would rise to follow anyone, regardless of who it was, even a Russian version of Gandhi, because they have no deep-rooted belief system like the Indians had for such a leader to tap into. Perhaps so many years of Tsarist and Soviet rule have destroyed their roots and beliefs, and left them wandering like Jack Nicholson’s character after his lobotomy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And now, perhaps they go to meet the same fate. Perhaps all the provocation their government is issuing against the NATO allies is actually just a plea for NATO to open fire and put Russia out of its misery.

The only times in their history that Russians have been willing to stand and fight for something as a people is when they faced foreign invaders. Russians were willing to risk all against Germans and Frenchmen, but not against other Russians. They fought Napoleon and Hitler, but not Stalin and Brezhnev. It almost seemed as if, when a Russian decided that other Russians needed to suffer and forfeit their lives, the Russian people had to agree. The Bolshevik revolution is no exception; the battles fought during it were minor skirmishes involving only tiny armies, with most of the Russian population standing on the sidelines, gaping. The Tsar fell not because the Russian people dragged him down, but because they would not life a finger to protect him.

Viewed that way, most of Russian history can be understood as one long plunge from a great height towards jagged rocks below.

Still, though, there is no point in giving up on Russia until the collapse comes. We must surely begin preparing for that collapse right away, and that alone is reason enough to keep on top of the Russian problem. Moreover, all sports fans can tell stories about games that seemed utterly lost but which finally were won, perhaps even in the final seconds. Who can say whether someone may step from the wings to galvanize the Russians into a new burst of civilized energy in a last ditch effort to pull back from the abyss? And who can say that our support may not be necessary to encourage her to take that step?

On we go.

Another Opposition Activist Sent to the Psycho Ward in Putin’s Russia

The Associated Press reports that yet another opposition political activist has been sent to the loony bin in neo-Soviet Russia:

A Russian opposition activist was committed to a psychiatric hospital before government protests, supporters said Friday – the latest in a series of incidents suggesting a punitive Soviet-era practice is being revived. Artem Basyrov, 20, was detained by two plainclothes officers and ordered held in a hospital in the central region of Mari El on Nov. 23, a day before a planned demonstration, said Alexander Averin, of the opposition National Bolshevik Party. The party is part of the Other Russia coalition, which organized the so-called “Dissenters Marches” around Russia. Basyrov had run for the local legislature as an Other Russia candidate.

A local psychiatric board agreed with police, who alleged that said Basyrov had assaulted a girl, and concluded he was suffering from some mental illness. Basyrov was finally transferred from an isolation ward and allowed to have visitors on Thursday, said Mikhail Klyuzhev, a National Bolshevik member from the city of Yoshkar-Ola. Basyrov was still being held in the hospital Friday. Klyuzhev called the allegations “idiocy.”

“It’s all part of the hysteria before the elections,” he said. Russia held its parliamentary vote Dec. 2, and will hold its presidential contest in March. Prosecutors and other officials in Mari El could not be immediately reached for comment. Supporters said Basyrov did not appear to have been mistreated. Another psychiatric board was slated to review Basyrov’s case at the end of the month, Klyuzhev said. His case is the latest example of journalists or opposition activists being involuntarily committed to psychiatric hospitals. During the Soviet era, dissidents were frequently committed as punishment for protesting Soviet policies.

Last week, Reporters Without Borders said Andrei Novikov, a reporter for a news service connected with Chechen separatist government, had been released after nine months in a psychiatric hospital. This summer, Larisa Arap, an Other Russia activist and journalist, spent six weeks in a psychiatric clinic; supporters said it was punishment for her critical reporting. The Global Initiative on Psychiatry, a Dutch watchdog group, says psychiatry continues to be used for punitive, political purposes in Russia.

Larisa Arap Speaks

It’s really encouraging to see mainstream media like the Boston Globe is not going to simply forget shocking neo-Soviet abuses like those that occurred in the case of Larisa Arap (regular LR readers are already well familiar with her; if you are not, enter her name into the search engines at the top and bottom of the page or simply click “weaponizing psychiatry” at the bottom of this post), but rather will continue to investigate and report them. The Globe reports:

It was just an errand, one more stop to get through the red tape, said Larissa Arap.

Arap, a rights activist in Russia, said she was seeking a driver’s license, and all she needed was a routine signature from a doctor certifying that she was in good health. But instead of complying, a psychiatrist in the northern Russian town of Murmansk asked Arap whether she was the one who had written “Madhouse,” an article in a local paper that had exposed unorthodox and dismal conditions in psychiatric wards.

As she slowly responded “yes,” Arap recalled, it dawned on her why a security vehicle was parked outside. A policeman came in as two others waited in the hallway. The psychiatrist refused to sign the document.

“Because you are the author who wrote about the closed psychiatric system, which is forbidden, we are sending you to a psychiatric institution,” the psychiatrist said, according to Arap.

What followed that July day was a horrific six-week stay in psychiatric wards, said Arap, who recounted her story in an interview last week in Washington.

Activists say Arap was only one of countless Russian citizens who have been wrongly spirited into the hallways of mental facilities. The tactics echo those used during Soviet times, when a whole class of professionals, doctors, judges, and low-level officials cooperated with government officials to silence critics.

Some government critics have called the phenomenon “police psychiatry.”

These days, such tactics are used to muzzle political opponents, incapacitate rivals, or simply remove tenants from apartments where they are not wanted, said Marina Litvinovich, who accompanied Arap to Washington and who serves as a political adviser to the civic organization run by chess champion Gary Kasparov.

Arap said that, in her case, police dragged her out of the medical office and forced her into an ambulance, which took her to the Murmansk psychiatric clinic. She said they beat her in the waiting area, injuring her spine. Medical personnel ripped her clothes off and tied her to a bed, she said.

Officials at the clinic have denied allegations of abuse. “We are representatives of a state medical institution; they are libeling Russia,” said Yevgeny Zenin, the hospital’s chief doctor, according to Reuters.

Today, Arap, 49, still walks slowly, and there is swelling around her ankles.

“They started injecting me with some substance. I was petrified and I started having double vision. I lost consciousness and all sense of time. I would drift in and out of consciousness,” recalled Arap.

Her skin taut over hollow cheeks, Arap said she still feels the after-effects of the experience.

While she was being held, regional representatives of Kasparov’s group, the United Civil Front, and Arap’s husband wrote letters demanding that the hospital stop administering the substance.

Kasparov and other rights defenders raised their voices in protest as well, and Arap was transferred to a facility in Apatity, about 180 miles away.

All in all, Arap spent 45 days in confinement; she said the conditions were humiliating. At one point, she said, she went on a five-day hunger strike to protest. She lost 22 pounds from her already-skeletal frame.

An independent commission of psychiatrists and experts was set up to look at the case at the request of human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin. A court eventually ruled that Arap did not need to be in a psychiatric clinic. She was released Aug. 28.

While she was held, Arap said, she spoke to dozens who were perfectly healthy but found themselves in the same situation: forcibly hospitalized for political reasons, or because of some competitive business venture that wanted them out of the picture.

Litvinovich said it’s much easier to send people to a psychiatric hospital than to have them murdered. “Sure, you can get someone killed. But it is expensive and dangerous,” she said. “If you have them committed, it is cheaper and simpler; you just pay off the cops, doctors, the courts.”

Arap Speaks

The Independent Reports:

Larisa Arap has just emerged from a 46-day imprisonment in two Russian psychiatric hospitals. Pills were forced down her throat and she received injection after injection. She doesn’t know what medications they were, or whether they will cause permanent damage.

“I don’t feel very well, but I have a fighting spirit,” Mrs Arap said yesterday, adding that sometimes she was so drugged she could barely walk or speak

She was forcibly interned, not for health reasons, but over her association with the opposition group led by former chess star Garry Kasparov, the United Civil Front. Her arrest stemmed from the publication of an article entitled “Madhouse,” exposing the ghoulish practices of a Russian psychiatric hospital in the Murmansk edition of his organisation’s newspaper, Dissenters’ March.

She was interned in the very hospital she had written about. “We’re ready to take this to court, although the medics have made it clear that we’ll lose,” she said.

Russian activists say her ordeal confirms what they’ve argued for years: punitive psychiatry did not end with the Soviet Union. Now, critics suggest, if someone has a grudge – a husband, a business partner, even a psychiatrist – it isn’t difficult to get them confined to a padded room.

In recent years, Mrs Arap had been looking after the child of her daughter, Taisiya, in her home town of Murmansk, north of the Arctic Circle. Problems first arose in 2003, when she uncovered corruption in her local housing association, as she reported in “Madhouse.” She was then attacked in her building, mystery callers threatened to murder her, and finally she was warned by the FSB, the KGB’s successor, to keep quiet. She didn’t.

Taken to a mental ward, Mrs Arap noted that many of its occupants seemed perfectly sane. “I was surprised that among them were lots of normal people,” she wrote in “Madhouse”. “But how they [staff] communicated with them: They shouted, they beat them up, they put them on drips, after which people became like zombies, they raped them, carried them off in the night and returned them in the morning, tormented.”

One woman was threatened with the removal of organs, Mrs Arap said. Children were told that if they didn’t give massages to medics they’d receive electro-shock therapy.

Mrs Arap was freed, but on 5 July, she was restrained at a clinic after stopping for documentation needed to obtain a drivers’ license. Her doctor asked if she had written “Madhouse,” and when she confirmed, police escorted her to a Murmansk mental hospital. Taisiya said that when she was first arrested, Mrs Arap was beaten, and went on a 5-day hunger strike in protest, consuming nothing but water and smoking cigarettes. It was only on 18 July that a court sanctioned her hospitalisation; until then, she had been detained illegally. Mrs Arap was moved to a hospital near Apatity, 180 miles from Murmansk, “without her agreement or the agreement of her relatives,” Taisiya said.

It was “a closed hospital from which people rarely return. … No positive feelings arise in this hospital. It’s a psychological hospital for the difficult, the dangerous, the abandoned.” Mrs Arap was eventually released when a commission, initiated by Russia’s human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, said there was no reason for her to be hospitalised. She is due in court today to protest her treatment, and the United Civil Front plans to prosecute everyone involved, although a representative admitted the group has little chance of winning. “We were never told anything concrete about why she was locked up,” Taisiya said. “The most frightening thing of all is that the law gives a lot of power to psychiatrists and doctors to do what they want.”

UPDATE: Some malignant little Russophile troll, illiterate and hence unable to read our comment publication rules, has claimed that the world’s newspapers have not noticed Arap and that this proves the world doesn’t care about her. Just to help him look even more ridiculous, we offer the following additional links from major English language publications around the world. Undoubtedly, there are many in other languages as well.

America Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, New York Times

Great Britain – The BBC, The Guardian, The Telegraph

Australia The Age

FranceThe International Herald Tribune

Russia – The Barents Observer