May 29, 2024

A Psychiatric Punishment


A Psychiatric Punishment
Psychiatric Clinic Number 4 in Moscow Oblast, specialized in compulsory treatment. Psychiatric Clinic Number 4 VK page.

Russian independent news outlet Agentstvo (“The agency”) analyzed data from human rights projects OVD-Info, Memorial and Perviy Otdel (“The First Department”) and found that, in 2023, at least 25 defendants in political cases were sent for compulsory treatment in psychological hospitals. The frequency of such decisions in 2023 increased 5 times compared to the 2021-2022 average.

The sharp increase in cases of forced treatment in 2023 is explained by the fact sentences began to be issued in anti-war cases that were opened in 2022, OVD-Info press secretary Dmitry Anisimov told Agentstvo. A member of Memorial, Alexei Makarov, in a conversation with Agentstvo journalists, said that the data from human rights activists may actually be incomplete and underestimate the real state of affairs, since the topic of mental health in Russia, on the one hand, is stigmatized, and on the other, people may remain silent about it, so that the defendant avoids a more severe punishment, that is, a long term in a colony.

However, the problem with compulsory treatment is that one's length of stay in a hospital largely depends on the medical commission, which can decide to transfer someone to outpatient treatment or leave the patient in the hospital. Conditions in a psychiatric hospital can also be challenging. In particular, political activist Sergei Pribylov, sentenced to compulsory treatment, told the independent outlet DOXA about abuses by staff. Patients may be deprived of sleep, confined to beds for long periods, or prescribed doses of powerful tranquilizers, he said. In addition, even after their discharge from a psychiatric hospital, patients are not free: for some time they are under the supervision of a psychiatrist, are forced to take psychotropic meds, and undergo examinations in psychiatric hospitals.

Agentstvo noted that the share of cases of forced treatment about the total number of sentences in politically motivated cases increased from less than 2% in the 2010s and the first years of the 2020s to 3.3% in 2023 and 2.5% in 2024.

Despite the fact that the practice of using forced treatment is expanding, it has not yet reached the scale of the late USSR. Even the peak of last year cannot be compared with Soviet times, Memorial  member Alexei Makarov told Agentstvo: “In the mid-1970s, approximately every sixth person convicted of anti-Soviet agitation or for spreading deliberately slanderous fabrications was subject to compulsory treatment."

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