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Russian dissident 'forcibly detained in mental hospital'

London Independent | July 30, 2007
Alastair Gee

A Russian opposition activist has been forcibly detained in a psychiatric clinic near the Arctic city of Murmansk, the chess champion turned dissident Garry Kasparov said yesterday.

The move was revenge by the authorities for an article in which the activist, Larisa Arap, 48, criticised practices in children's mental health wards, Mr Kasparov said.

Ms Arap, a member of Mr Kasparov's United Civil Front, is being medicated against her will, he claimed.

Activists say this is not the first case of politically motivated, enforced admission to hospital in President Vladimir Putin's Russia, and have condemned the move as redolent of the Soviet era. Mr Kasparov said: "It could happen if you attack the interests of the local Gazprom, the local military base, 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."

Authorities have taken a hard line with opposition groups, and aggressively broke up marches earlier this year in Moscow and St Petersburg by The Other Russia, a coalition that includes Mr Kasparov and the National Bolshevik Party, which was recently banned.

Ms Arap visited a psychiatrist last week to get a mental health certificate needed to renew her driving licence, Mr Kasparov said. The doctor asked if she had written an article that noted the use of electroshock therapy at children's mental health institutions, he said. When Ms Arap confirmed she was the author of the article, she was escorted by police to court, where documents were produced that said she required medical attention.

Yevgeny Nikolayevich, a doctor at the Murmansk region psychiatric hospital, would not confirm whether Ms Arap had been admitted, but said patients were never admitted on the basis of their political beliefs.

"It's the first time I've ever heard that. In this hospital, that's a new horizon for me. In our hospital, we only have psychologically ill people." He added: "And it also happens that dissidents can be psychologically ill."

During Soviet times, enforced hospitalisation was a chilling tool for quelling dissent. Opponents of the regime could find themselves in a straitjacket for the flimsiest of reasons.

Although a 1992 mental health law made involuntary detention more difficult without a court order, some psychiatrists resented their loss of power. In 2004, doctors from Moscow's Serbsky Institute lobbied for these amendments to be overturned.

The first post-Soviet case of a journalist being detained was that of Andrei Novikov, who wrote articles criticising the Russian military's actions in Chechnya, said Oleg Panfilov, director of the Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations in Moscow. Mr Novikov has been in a mental hospital for a year, and has almost no contact with the outside world. Russia's underfunded psychiatric hospitals are notorious for their atrocious conditions.

In the current political climate a rollback to Soviet practices isn't surprising, Mr Panfilov said. "When there are KGB officers in the government, they restore what there was during the Soviet era: propaganda, censorship and repression."

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