Student sectioned for anti-Putin activism
Student sectioned for anti-Putin activities
By Nick Holdsworth in Moscow
To the men in white coats who locked him away, Artem Basirov was a confused and paranoid lunatic who was a danger to himself and others. His own diagnosis of the condition that led to his detention in a Russian psychiatric hospital was simpler: it was his dislike of President Vladimir Putin.
Mr Basirov, 20, a university student, was among a group of pro-democracy activists planning a protest against President Putin's increasingly authoritarian rule ahead of last December's elections.
But on the night before the planned demonstration, he was snatched by secret service officers, taken to a state psychiatric hospital and forced to undergo a month of "treatment", during which he was fed mind-numbing drugs.
Mr Basirov's incarceration inside the Soviet-era psycho-neurological clinic, details of which have been passed to The Sunday Telegraph, is the latest case in which opponents of Kremlin rule have been hauled off to state-run mental institutions.
Reminiscent of the days of communism, when sectioning on mental health grounds was used to silence Kremlin critics, it is being seen as another tactic used by the government to intimidate the opposition ahead of next month's presidential elections.
"It was an extremely frightening experience," said Mr Basirov, who was standing as a parliamentary candidate for the former chess champion Garry Kasparov's Other Russia coalition in the town of Yoshkar-Ola, in central Russia. "I was force fed tablets and given injections of drugs that made everything go into a blur."
Mr Basirov's case follows that of Larissa Arap, 49, a journalist from Murmansk who was detained in a psychiatric hospital for 46 days after she exposed the abuse of children at the very same unit.
Another case involved Roman Nikolaichik, 27, from Tver, near Moscow, who is also a supporter of Other Russia.
The use of punitive psychiatry was pioneered during the era of Nikita Khrushchev.
Its revival by the present Russian authorities has horrified human rights activists, and according to Dr Lubov Vinogradova, executive director of Russia's 600-strong independent psychiatrists' association, the latest cases are merely the tip of the iceberg.
"Under Putin we have witnessed a gradual growth in the breach of human rights using psychiatry," she said. "There has been a rise in cases of a political nature in the past six months."
Her organisation has about 500 reports annually of individuals being sectioned without good grounds.
Many have simply fallen foul of individual businessmen and politicians, who often bribe corrupt state health officials to sign sectioning papers.
In Mr Basirov's case, he was hauled before a three-man psychiatric commission at a state psycho-neurological clinic and accused of what he calls "an absolutely absurd" charge of sexually harassing women.
He was then sent to a secure unit. Contact with family, friends and a lawyer was minimal, and he was only freed after members of the independent psychiatrists' association arrived to protest at his detention.
According to their case notes, doctors based their verdict on the Kafkaesque observation that Mr Basirov seemed "stressed, talkative, suspicious of others, argumentative and confused". Mr Basirov noted: "It's hardly surprising I seemed like that, given the circumstances."