Russia: Activist Sent To Psychiatric Unit After Exposing Health Facilities
MOSCOW,August 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) — An opposition activist has been locked in amental-health institution in Murmansk Oblast for criticizing healthprofessionals, her husband and human-rights groups claim.
DmitryTereshin has hardly slept since July 5, the day his wife, Larisa Arap,telephoned him from the local hospital in Murmansk to say doctors wereforcibly admitting her to a psychiatric unit. She had gone to thehospital for a routine check-up she needed to renew her driver’slicense.
“In my opinion, it may have been because of thearticle, because the doctor had read the article Larissa wrote,”Tereshin told RFE/RL. “The article was entitled ‘Madhouse,’ and itrevealed what goes on in psychiatric clinics.”
Doctors and localhealth officials have categorically denied any link between Arap’sarticle or her political activities and her admission to thepsychiatric unit.
Abuses Alleged In Children’s Wards
Arapis a member of the opposition United Civic Front, headed by GarryKasparov. In June, she wrote a story in a local newspaper that allegedbarbaric practices at children’s wards at psychiatric hospitals inMurmansk Oblast.
In her article, Arap claimed children wereforced to kiss and massage the legs of staff members at hospitals, andwere forbidden to walk around outside the ward more than once every twoweeks. She also made allegations of child abuse, including rape, in thepsychiatric wards.
Now Arap has herself been admitted to apsychiatric institution in the town of Apatiti, some 300 kilometersfrom Murmansk. Human-rights advocates say her detention marks a returnto Soviet-era practices, when dissenters were commonly locked away inmental-health institutions.
Roman Chorny, an activist with theCitizens Commission on Human Rights, flew to Murmansk this week to askfor a meeting with Arap.
“Unfortunately, Larisa Arap was notinvited to take part in the conference [held between doctors,human-rights groups, and journalists],” Chorny said. “Representativesof the psychiatric unit said that Larisa Arap had apparently refused totalk to journalists and human-rights groups, which I find very hard tobelieve.”
Doctors and local health officials have categoricallydenied any link between Arap’s article or her political activities andher admission to the psychiatric unit.
“As far as I can recall,not a single patient has been admitted to this or any other hospital inthe region for political reasons,” said Yevgeny Yenin, the chiefmedical officer at the Murmansk Regional Psychiatric Hospital, whereArap is being held. “They are only admitted for medical reasons –because they need medical attention — and in accordance with the law.”
Doctorssay Arap has been hospitalized before with mental-health problems. Herhusband confirmed that she spent two weeks at a psychiatric unit in2004. But Chorny at the Citizens Commission on Human Rights says healthofficials are deliberately distorting the truth.
A Smear Campaign?
“Thislooks to me very much like a smear campaign, an attempt to discreditthis person,” Chorny said. “Even if she was hospitalized in 2004, thefact of her hospitalization doesn’t mean anything. A person has theright to protect the rights of others and to write about conditions inpsychiatric wards. Simply because she revealed this to the media doesnot mean she should herself be incarcerated in a psychiatric ward.”
TheCitizens Commission for Human Rights has made a formal complaint to thehead of the regional administration and Murmansk’s governor, and askedthe region’s prosecutor to look into the case. Under pressure fromhuman-rights groups and the United Civic Front, Russia’s human-rightsombudsman has also opened an inquiry.
Meanwhile, Arap’s husband is making the seven-hour round trip to Apatiti to see his wife every couple of days.
“We’retrying to get her out of there,” Tereshin said. “But it involves acomplicated legal process; a court needs to make a second decision onher case. There may have to be three, four, five decisions made. Idon’t know what will happen next.”
The United Civic Front has called Arap’s detention illegal and is demanding her immediate release.
– end Radio Free Europe report –