April 18, 2024


Russian psychiatrists are falling back into bad habits of the Soviet era by drugging and hospitalising critics of the government — or even of mental hospitals. According to the Independent Psychiatric Association, a Moscow watchdog, they can even arrange a zombie-like existence for the victims of unscrupulous relatives or criminals. “We see cases of psychiatrists taking bribes and faking diagnoses all the time,” says Gennady Gudkov, a member of the Russian Duma (parliament). Two doctors, in Nizhniy Novgorod and Ulyanovsk, are currently on trial for having committed old people and sold their apartments for personal profit.

An even more sinister development is using mental hospitals for political critics. According to Newsweek, Andrey Novikov, a journalist in central Russia, was jailed earlier this year on charges of “extremism” after criticising policies in Chechnya. Not long afterwards Novikov was sent for involuntary psychiatric treatment for what his doctors say in court papers would be “as long as it takes to have his mental health fully restored.” Another journalist, Pavel Kuznetsov, was declared “mentally unsound” in February after criticising local authorities’ inefficiency in the newspaper.

Journalist and activist Larisa Arap was hospitalised and drugged in July after she published an article on child abuse in local psychiatric wards. An independent commission agreed that she showed some signs of mental instability, but that hospitalisation was unnecessary. Pressure from international media led to her release in August.

“We’re returning to this Soviet scenario when psychiatric institutions are used as punitive instruments,” says the president of the Independent Psychiatric Association, Yuri Savenko. “I call this not even punitive psychiatry, but police psychiatry, when the main aim is to protect the state rather than to treat sick people.”