Monday, March 22, 2021

Punitive Psychiatry Returns to Russia First in the Regions rather than in Moscow

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 20 – The Russian authorities are using psychiatry against dissidents just as the leaders of the USSR did at the end of Soviet times, but they are doing so in a new way that may pass below the radar screen of those in the West concerned about human rights: They are committing this crime first in the regions rather than in Moscow itself.

            In Brezhnev’s time, the use of punitive psychiatry in conformity with the typical hyper-centralization of Russian states was so much confined to Moscow that it became identified with a single structure there, the Serbsky Institute. But now the more media savvy Putin administration is using it far from Moscow, most recently in the Sakha Republic and Bashkortostan.

            What the Kremlin is clearly counting on is that Russian rights activists and those in the West concerned with human rights in the Russian Federation will not pay as much attention to these cases far from the center, both because less is likely to be known about them and because the victims won’t have the same support groups victims in Moscow have typically had.

            That makes it especially important to pay attention to what is known about such cases in the regions and republics and to see them for what they are, both a violation of fundamental human rights of those involved and a testing ground for the spread of punitive psychiatry to major urban centers.

            Two cases in the regions thus deserve the closest possible attention from more than just the people immediately involved in their regions. The first concerns a court finding in Sakha that self-proclaimed shaman Aleksandr Gabyshev is insane and must be confined to a psychiatric facility.

            Tomsk human rights activist Aleksey Pryanishnikov says that the case against him is completely fraudulent, that Gabyshev is “an absolutely peaceful and good man” and that the powers that be want him out of the way because he has challenged Putin (

            The activist says that declaring Gabyshev “insane” and confining him has nothing to do with the facts or a desire to treat someone really ill but rather is an effort to get him out of the way and discredit him among those who have been his followers. Moscow’s Serbsky Institute is involved, as its “doctors” have provided testimony that the courts in Sakha found convincing.

(For background on Gabyshev’s case and his most recent “clash” with the authorities, see,,  and

The other case involves Bashkir activist Ramilya Saitova, someone far less widely known than Gabyshev but also a victim of punitive psychiatry ( Arrested in November for her statements and calls for protests, Saitova was recently shifted to the Republic Psychiatric Hospital near Ufa for “psychiatric assessment.”

The activist used the Internet and especially YouTube to promote her views that all Orthodox crosses must be removed from her Muslim republic, that Armenians there must leave, and that lands taken from Bashkortostan must be restored to it and its own lands protected from misuse by Russian companies (

Fail Alsynov, head of the now-banned Bashkort national movement, says that he doesn’t agree with some of what Saitova has said, “but her desire to fight for justice is worthy of respect. Not even many of our young guys have such courage.” Therefore, he concludes, “she must not be jailed or confined to a psychiatric prison “only because she has an opinion different from others” (

As in Gabyshev’s case, it is obvious that the Russian powers that be are doing just that, a violation of the Russian constitution and the human rights that they and all others share. 

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