Tuesday, July 10, 2018

New Russian Law Opens the Way for Broader Use of Punitive Psychiatry Against Dissent

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 9 – The World Cup circus may not have distracted Russians from the Kremlin’s plans to force them to work longer before receiving a pension – indeed, the transparency of what Moscow was doing may have had the opposite effect – but it has distracted the attention of many in the West to new repressive measures the Putin regime is taking.

            Among the worst is a new law, approved by the Duma on third reading last week, that allows prosecutors to commit to psychiatric hospitals on an involuntarily and forced basis those who are found guilty not just of criminal laws but of administrative rules, significantly expanding the number of Russians at risk of such treatment (theins.ru/opinions/108997).

            Psychiatrist Andrey Bilzho says the new law is extremely dangerous and opens the way to the restoration of the Soviet practice of using forced psychiatric hospitalization against dissidents who were completely healthy in psychological terms but had offended the powers that be by their opposition to the Kremlin.

            The political abuse of psychiatry in this way, he says, is relatively well known. What is not is an equally horrific spread of its use for still other purposes much in the same way that denunciations were used in Stalin’s time: to get someone out of an apartment one wanted to occupy and so on. Such things were common outside of Moscow, Bilzho says.

            Now, they could easily return, although with the political abuses.

            The new law does differ from its Soviet predecessor in one detail, the psychiatrist says. In Soviet times, the procuracy wasn’t involved. Officials simply called emergency services and asked that so and so be taken to a psychiatric hospital for treatment, a place where they ensured in advance that he or she would be “treated” appropriately – that is, inappropriately.

            In the new law, everything appears “normal,” except for “one ‘small’ condition.” The procurator involved must be free, independent and honest, and the psychiatrists must have a similar freedom to find that someone doesn’t need treatment.  In a “normal” country, that would be the way it would work.

            But as Bilzho points out, Russia isn’t a normal country; and that isn’t how things will work out.  Consequently, there is every reason to fear that this new law will be abused. Russians and others must denounce it and be on alert for new attacks by the regime against the rights of the population.

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