Saturday, September 30, 2006

Some Old Habits Die Hard

In Russia, Psychiatry Is Again a Tool Against Dissent

Ugly story in the Washington Post regarding Marina Trutko of Dubna. Dubna is the well known home of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research and historically is a city of physicists and scientists, located north of Moscow. Ms. Trutko is apparently a former nuclear scientist herself, turned public advocate. Trutko works as a "public defender" and despite her lack of law degree is reportedly well versed in Russian law. Trutko began to face problems with local court authorities approximately 4 years ago in the city of Dmitrov due to a conflict with a local judge.
Trutko asserted that the judge displayed bias against her client in a property dispute, and she moved to have the judge withdrawn. She also complained that the judge was not wearing her robe as required and that the Russian flag was improperly displayed. The judge, who later left the bench and could not be reached for comment, alleged that Trutko said, "Look at that fat pig sitting up there," according to legal papers.

Prosecutors opened a criminal case against Trutko on charges of contempt of court. In July 2003, the court ordered Trutko to undergo an involuntary psychiatric evaluation. Psychiatrists at the hospital said she was uncooperative, illogical and displayed emotional reactions that were "not adequate" -- a common phrase here for mental illness.
If she acted this way in the United States, a very similar thing might have happened - she would have been found in contempt of court and possibly imprisoned, at least short-term. In the US, her DEFENDER would have likely sought for her to be proven mentally ill, to get her out of responsibility for her actions. Also, it should be noted that in the US, it would be unlikely that she could practice law without a degree and certainly would have passed bar exams.

The Independent Psychiatric Association in Russia questioned the conclusions that Trutko was not mentally fit - citing that she has a "not ordinary personality" but noting her obvious intelligence and believing that treatment for mental illness was necessary. You might think this should be the end of it - she reportedly made some ugly comments in court, criminal charges were opened against her, some psychiatric evaluation was ordered, and diverging opinions regarding her mental state were found. It is from this point forward, however, where the situation diverged from how such matters might be handled here in the US.

In April 2004, after leaving a hearing on her case in Moscow, Trutko was detained by investigators and taken to the Serbsky Institute. It was a Friday evening when she was admitted and there was no expert commission available to evaluate her, Trutko said. Human rights groups protested her detention and threatened legal action. Trutko said she was released the following Tuesday morning without having undergone any formal examination by psychiatrists.

But the institute issued a six-page evaluation that said she suffered from a "paranoid personality disorder." The condition manifested itself in her "subjectivity," her "tendencies to verbal aggression," her "suspicious" personality and her "inability to understand the peculiarities of interpersonal relations and communication," medical records show.

The report recommended that she undergo forced hospitalization and treatment.

In September 2004, a Moscow court approved that approach. But the authorities, for reasons that remain unclear, did not act on the order until they stormed Trutko's apartment earlier this year.
Trutko has subsequently been released, but claims that her career has essentially been ruined, which was likely the point of the persecution she experienced. From all that I read and here, such cases in Russia are less a result of systemic prosecution of dissidents - than the abuses of a corrupt court system and local authorities. Parallels would include the Vladimir Rakhmankov case, where he was most recently arrested for calling Putin a phallic symbol of Russia (фаллический символ России).
As further noted by Peter Finn in the Washington Post article:
The Independent Psychiatric Association, however, says that the number of activists being wrongfully hospitalized in mental facilities totals dozens of cases in recent years and is increasing. Doctors and the courts are complicit with investigators who insist on a forced psychiatric evaluation or treatment, it says. Activists have also documented an increase of family or business disputes in which wrongful hospitalization provides an opening to seize a person's property, Vinogradova said.

Most of the targeted activists are not affiliated with major human rights groups. Rather, like Trutko, they are stubborn gadflies who are involved in long-running feuds with local authorities. Their sometimes intemperate complaints against authorities are used to open criminal investigations for slander. This allows authorities to seek hospitalization. Unlike Soviet dissidents, these activists are put away for relatively short periods of a week to several months.

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