Daily Archives: August 18, 2007

August 18, 2007 — Contents


(1) Crazy, Cowardly Kremlin Silences BBC, Sends Bombers

(2) The Arap Outrage Continues

(3) EDITORIAL: An Open Letter to Russia Profile

Crazy, Cowardly Kremlin Seeks to Muzzle the BBC and Instigate World War III

In yet another pathetic display of cowardice, the Kremlin shows that it is afraid of the BBC. The Beeb reports its own demise:

The BBC’s Russian-language service is being taken off an FM radio station in Russia at the orders of the country’s media regulator. The broadcaster’s last FM distribution partner in Russia, Bolshoye Radio, said it had been told to remove BBC content or risk being shut down. Two other Russian FM stations, have dropped BBC programming recently. The BBC’s Russian Service can still be heard online and on medium and shortwave frequencies in Russia. BBC executives said they would appeal against the decision. “The BBC entered into the relationship with Bolshoye Radio in good faith,” said Richard Sambrook, Director of BBC Global News. “We cannot understand how the licence is now interpreted in a way that does not reflect the original and thorough concept documents.” He said the licensing agreement allowed for 18% of Bolshoye’s content to be foreign-produced. Bolshoye Radio’s owners, financial group Finam, told the BBC that Russia’s media regulators required that all programming be produced by the station itself. A spokesman for the company said management had made the decision without outside prompting. “It’s no secret that the BBC was established as a broadcaster of foreign propaganda,” the spokesman, Igor Ermachenkov, told Associated Press news agency. Mr Sambrook said: “We are extremely disappointed that listeners to Bolshoye Radio will be unable to listen to our impartial and independent news and information programming in the high quality audibility of FM.” Critics say Russia is taking measures to curb media freedom ahead of parliamentary elections in December and a presidential poll in March.

In a second display of what a calm, friendly nation Russia is, it resumed the Soviet practice of sending patrols of bombers beyond its borders:

Russia is resuming a Soviet-era practice of sending its bomber aircraft on long-range flights, President Vladimir Putin has said. Mr Putin said the move to resume the flights permanently after a 15-year suspension was in response to security threats posed by other military powers. He said 14 bombers had taken off from Russian airfields early on Friday. The move came a week after Russian bombers flew within a few hundred miles of the US Pacific island of Guam. A few days ago Moscow said its strategic bombers had begun exercises over the North Pole.

Flexing muscles

“We have decided to restore flights by Russian strategic aviation on a permanent basis,” Mr Putin told reporters at joint military exercises with China and four Central Asian states in Russia’s Ural mountains. “In 1992, Russia unilaterally ended flights by its strategic aircraft to distant military patrol areas. Unfortunately, our example was not followed by everyone,” Mr Putin said, in an apparent reference to the US. “Flights by other countries’ strategic aircraft continue and this creates certain problems for ensuring the security of the Russian Federation,” he said. In Washington, state department spokesman Sean McCormack played down the significance of Russia’s move, saying: “We certainly are not in the kind of posture we were with what used to be the Soviet Union.”

“If Russia feels as though they want to take some of these old aircraft out of mothballs and get them flying again, that’s their decision,” he told reporters. One of the reasons Russia halted its flights 15 years ago was that it could no longer afford the fuel. Today Moscow’s coffers are stuffed full of oil money, says the BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Moscow, and the Kremlin is determined to show it is still a military power to reckon with.

‘Shadowed by Nato

Russian media reported earlier on Friday that long-range bombers were airborne, and that Nato jets were shadowing them. Itar-Tass quoted Russian air force spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky as saying: “At present, several pairs of Tu-160 and Tu-95MS aircraft are in the air over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, which are accompanied by Nato planes.” Nato said it was aware of the flights but had no comment on whether Nato planes were in attendance. In last week’s incident near Guam, the Russian pilots “exchanged smiles” with US fighter pilots who scrambled to track them, a Russian general said. The US military confirmed the presence of the Russian bombers near Guam, home to a large US base. Last month two Tupolev 95 aircraft – dubbed “bears” according to their Nato code-name – strayed south from their normal patrol pattern off the Norwegian coast and headed towards Scotland. Two RAF Tornado fighters were sent up to meet them. Russian bombers have also recently flown close to US airspace over the Arctic Ocean near Alaska.

Russia is willfully baiting the entire world back into a cold war scenario that the USSR, with twice the population, couldn’t win. It’s insane. Russia is moving down the road to total annihilation.

The Arap Saga Continues

Writing in the American Spectator, journalist and blogger Christopher Orlet blasts the Kremlin over the neo-Soviet weaponization of psychiatry:

At first blush it would seem a typical case of Russian President Vladimir Putin dipping into the Old Bolshevik’s Playbook — just another example of Life imitating Marx. But in today’s Russia, things are seldom what they seem.

Take the case of Larisa Arap. Ms. Arap, 49, is a journalist and, for the past six weeks, an inmate of a psychiatric clinic in the northwestern cities of Murmansk (the world’s largest city north of the Arctic Circle) and Apatiti. On July 5, 2007, Ms. Arap appeared for her annual physical, a requirement for renewing one’s driver’s license. It was during the exam that Dr. Marina Rekish discovered that her patient was the author of a newspaper story titled “Madhouse” that alleged child abuse and other barbarisms at the Murmansk Regional Psychiatric Hospital. Dr. Rekish immediately telephoned police who arrived minutes later –dressed in combat fatigues — and dragged the reporter to the hospital’s psychiatric unit where she has remained under “doctors’ care” ever since.

Both opposition leader and former chess champ Garry Kasparov and the chair of Russia’s Independent Psychiatric Association, Dr. Vladimir Prokudin, charge that Ms. Arap’s confinement is retribution for her investigative piece. The hospital’s chief medical officer Yevgeny Yenin dismissed any link between Arap’s piece and her confinement. He then violated his patient’s privacy rights by revealing that Ms. Arap had been committed once before. (Arap’s husband acknowledged that his wife had been in a psych unit for two weeks in 2004 for stress. It was during this stay that she witnessed the abuses detailed in her story.)

Soon after her arrest a Murmansk judge — acting on the recommendation of local authorities — declared the reporter to be “a danger to herself and others,” a view challenged by an account Arap’s daughter gave to the Chicago Tribune. “One of the doctors asked whether I thought it was normal to write such things,” Taisiya Arap told the Trib. “[The doctor] said, ‘It’s not possible to write such things. It’s forbidden.'” Doctors also told Taisiya Arap that her mother needed “long term treatment and might never leave the clinic,” the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported.

When not investigating allegations of child abuse by medical professionals, Arap is a member of Kasparov’s opposition United Civil Front. Following Arap’s arrest, Kasparov told the Independent

Indeed, Ms. Arap’s detention recalls a time not so long ago when all Soviet dissidents were regarded as being of unsound mind, since “no sane person would declaim against Soviet government and communism,” and paranoia was defined as the obsession with “the struggle for truth and justice.” It was an effective and convenient way of silencing dissidents for institutionalization not only descredited their ideas, it broke them physically and mentally. “Treatment” often involved electric shocks, narcotics, beatings, isolation and torturous and unnecessary medical procedures like spinal taps. Patients were frequently doped into submission for years at a time. Whether this was more humane than summary execution or exile to labor camps in Siberia or Kazakhstan is a matter of debate.

One of those who served time both in a gulag and a mental hospital, Vladimir Bukovsky, told the Tribune that “as far as the current lot in power is concerned using psychiatry for political purposes is a perfectly acceptable way of dealing with opponents…you don’t have to hire a killer.” Such retro behavior is only to be expected, the director of Moscow’s Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Oleg Panfilov told the Independent. “When there are KGB officers in the government, they restore what there was during the Soviet era: propaganda, censorship, and repression.” (That an organization called the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations is necessary says all one needs to know about freedom of the press in Russia.)

Sadly Ms. Arap’s case is not unique. The Tribune has documented two similar episodes — one of lawyer Marina Trutko, another of businessman Roman Lukin, both recently committed to psychiatric hospitals for human rights activities.

These days it is no easy thing to completely isolate so-called mental patients, and a few officials have been able to meet with Ms. Arap, including Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin, and three members of the Independent Psychiatric Association. The latter examined Arap and pronounced her to be of sound mind, though suffering from the effects of her confinement, maltreatment and her second hunger strike. The psychiatrists called for her immediate release.

Is this a case of a local medical mafia unable to shake its Soviet-era mindset and therefore taking the law into its own hands, or a thuggish government reverting to Stalinist tactics to silence and discredit the opposition? What do you want to bet it is, “All of the Above”? — that anyone can be forcibly detained “if you attack the interests of the local Gazprom, the local military base, or the local medical mafia. Attacking the interests of local bureaucrats is a terrible risk, because they don’t stop at anything to get their own back.”

It’s worthy of note the Russia Profile, the Kremlin’s slavishly insidious propaganda blog, has stated: “Larisa Arap is not a journalist, and in contradiction to what has been widely reported, did not write the article in question. She is an accountant at the Murmansk office of the United Civil Front, and was quoted at length in an article written by a journalist named Ilona Novikova entitled ‘Madhouse’ and published in a special edition of a local opposition newspaper titled ‘Dissenters March.'” This is really pathetic propaganda. Everyone associated with the opposition groups in Russia has a day job because there isn’t enough money to pay them. That doesn’t mean she’s not a journalist, and it’s been made quite clear that Arap was the de facto author of the piece in question, though she was presented as a source by the nominal writer.

Russia Profile also seeks to smear Arap by stating: “It seems that Ms. Arap does have a history of psychiatric problems.” It doesn’t give one single shred of evidence to back up this claim, and the fact that Ms. Arap had “psychiatric problems” at some point in her life has nothing whatsoever to do with whether there were grounds to incarcerate her. Shame on Russia Profile for this unsourced smear, and shame on all those associated with it!

But it’s also worthy of note that not even Russia Profile can completely deny the horror of this situation, though it does it all it can to minimize it. RP itself admits that Russia’s human rights Czar has examined the situation, found the detention totally bogus, and declared: “This woman is a member of the United Civil Front and as such was able to get international attention,” said Savenko. “But there are many other cases that are even more disturbing that have not made it to the public domain. We are on the verge of a wide-scale misuse of psychiatry for non-medical grounds that is reminiscent of Soviet times.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists has written to “President” Putin to demand Arap’s release:

August 14, 2007

His Excellency Vladimir Putin
President of the Russian Federation
The Kremlin
Moscow, Russia

Via Facsimile: 011 7 495 206 5137/206 6277

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply disturbed by the illegal psychiatric confinement in the northern city of Apatity of opposition activist Larisa Arap. Arap’s forced hospitalization on July 5 came soon after the publication of a story she coauthored on the treatment of patients at the Murmansk regional psychiatric hospital in Apatity—the same hospital where she is being held today.

On June 8, the Murmansk edition of the opposition newspaper Marsh Nesoglasnykh (Dissenters’ March)—the organ of the opposition coalition United Civic Front (OGF), led by Garry Kasparov—published Arap’s story. Titled “Durdom” (“Madhouse”), it described how harsh medical practices, such as the use of electroshock therapy, were reportedly used in treating children and adolescents at Apatity.

On July 5, Arap went to a local clinic in Severomorsk to receive the results of a medical checkup she had undergone a month earlier as a requirement to renew her driver’s license. What was intended as a routine doctor’s visit turned into a 40-day nightmare. Her doctor, Marina Rekish, who had issued a certificate for Arap a year earlier, asked her whether she was the author of “Durdom.” When Arap confirmed that she was indeed the author, Rekish told her to wait outside. After some time, the doctor returned with several police officers who detained Arap until an ambulance arrived. Arap was taken to a Murmansk hospital where she was injected with drugs that weakened her, caused her tongue to swell, blurred her vision, and affected her balance, according to relatives who visited her at the hospital.

On July 7, when Arap’s husband, Dmitry, and daughter, Taisiya, were allowed to visit her at the hospital, Arap complained that the medical personnel had tied her to her bed and beat her. To protest the treatment, Arap went on a five-day hunger strike on July 9. Yelena Vasilyeva, chairwoman of the Murmansk branch of OGF and Arap’s trustee, told the Russian press that Arap feared doctors were drugging her meals.

It was not until July 18 that a Murmansk district court officially sanctioned Arap’s hospitalization, meaning her 13-day detention had been illegal. The court upheld an appeal by the hospital holding Arap and ignored entreaties from her relatives and colleagues who pointed out that she was not a danger to herself or people around her.

Despite protests from local and international opposition and human rights activists, authorities continued to hold Arap and medicate her without her diagnosis. Doctors have also refused to give her diagnosis to her family, lawyer, and trustee. On July 26, the 49-year-old Arap was taken to the Murmansk regional psychiatric hospital in Apatity—the place she described in “Durdom.”

The city of Apatity is about 100 miles (161 kilometers) south of Murmansk, and the hospital is outside city limits in a forested area. Mental patients housed there are considered a danger to themselves and those around them. On July 31, during a visit to Arap at Apatity, doctors openly asked Vasilyeva whether her coalition, OGF, was afraid of publishing an article like Arap’s “Durdom.” Arap is still being held at the hospital.

Responding to local and international protests, the Russian Ombudsman for Human Rights Vladimir Lukin commissioned an independent psychiatric evaluation of Arap.

Yesterday, Yuri Savenko, president of the Independent Psychiatric Association, concluded that Arap has been illegally hospitalized, the Interfax news agency reported. “Larisa Arap has been put in a clinic by force, rudely, and without any grounds,” Savenko told Interfax. “This style, which is typical of the Soviet times—to protect the state and not the person—is used by inertia,” Savenko was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, local sources told CPJ that Larisa Arap’s daughter, Taisiya, was fired from her job at a Murmansk bank last week. Her employers told her she had been giving too many interviews about her mother.

Your Excellency, the horrifying method of forcible psychiatric detention as punishment for dissent was a trademark of the Soviet past and has no place in a new, democratic Russia. We call on you to personally intervene in the case of Larisa Arap, who has been living a nightmare because she wrote a story that angered those same hospital authorities “treating” her now. In view of yesterday’s expert conclusion by the Independent Psychiatric Association, we ask that Larisa Arap be immediately released and that a criminal investigation is opened against those responsible for her illegal detention and psychiatric treatment.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We await your reply.

Joel Simon
Executive Director

EDITORIAL: An Open Letter to the Editor of Russia Profile

Dear Editor,

I’m appalled by Shaun Walker’s statement in “Madness or Manipulation? Case of Murmansk Activist Creates International Backlash” (8/16) that: “Larisa Arap is not a journalist, and in contradiction to what has been widely reported, did not write the article in question. She is an accountant at the Murmansk office of the United Civil Front, and was quoted at length in an article written by a journalist named Ilona Novikova entitled ‘Madhouse’ and published in a special edition of a local opposition newspaper titled ‘Dissenters March.'”

The fact that Ms. Arap has a day job does not prevent her from also being a journalist; virtually nobody who works for any of the opposition groups in Russia in a non-business capacity does so as a full-time professional, and for you to suggest otherwise is an outrageous smear on Ms. Arap’s reputation. Ms. Arap is actively involved in reporting on acts by the Russian government to undermine democracy, and that makes her a journalist. In my view, her standing as a journalist and her contributions to the field are far, far greater than, just for instance, Mr. Walker’s. The fact that the widely respected Committee to Protect Journalists, heartily agrees with me, and has written a letter of protest to “President” Putin expressing its outrage at her mistreatment, is a good indication of how far off base Mr. Walker really is. Moreover, the fact that Ms. Arap’s name did not appear on the byline of the article in question does not mean she was not integral in its reporting.

In his biography on your website, Mr. Walker is described as follows: “Born in London to Indian-British parents, he studied Russian History at Oxford University, before coming to Russia to work for an anti-AIDS NGO. He joined Russia Profile in June 2005. His interests include opera, breakaway states, good food, and Southampton Football Club.” That hardly sounds to me like the credentials of someone qualified to say who is a “journalist” and who is not, much less who actually is one himself (as Mr. Walker claims to be). How dare Russia Profile insult its readers’ intelligence by allowing this football-loving gourmand to issue an edict defining the term for the rest of the world. What has Mr. Walker ever risked for Russia — or for anything, for that matter?

Mr. Walker also writes: “It seems that Ms Arap does have a history of psychiatric problems.” I simply cannot believe that even an institution of your dubious ethical standards would allow this statement into print without being accompanied by solid proof that is is so, yet none was present in the article. Moreover, it is totally irrelevant to the propriety of Ms. Arap’s current confinement that she had treatment in the past, and you have not shown any evidence of any reports claiming she never did. In fact, all that has been reported is that she had a medical screening just before she was seized and was given a clean bill of mental health — something Mr. Walker fails to accurately inform your readers about.

I call upon Russia Profile to make full public disclosure of the extent of financial and other support it receives from the Russian government, including the “Russia Today” media propaganda campaign, and to give a detailed description of the involvement of state-connected flunkies in its day-to-day operations. In my view, in light of the support you receive, the forgoing statements have the clear tinge of biased attempts to shield the Kremlin from blame it richly deserves.

I also call upon Mr. Walker to apologize to Ms. Arap for his misleading statements. To me, his article reads like a propaganda piece churned out by the Kremlin in Soviet times; it admits facts it cannot possibly deny, then seeks to undercut their significance in every way possible. As such, I find it no more entitled to being called “journalism” than a letter written by Stalin. I realize, of course, that to you this is probably a great compliment to Mr. Walker. More’s the pity.

Sincerely yours,

Kim Zigfeld

La Russophobe

Note: A version of this letter was e-mailed to the editors of Russia Profile.