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Russian Activist Says Clinic Staff Tried To Kill Her

An undated photo of opposition activist Larisa Arap (left) and a photo taken by her daughter at the psychiatric hospital where she was held (Courtesy Photo) August 21, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A journalist and opposition activist who was forcibly hospitalized in a Russian psychiatric clinic is claiming that she was beaten, drugged, and an attempt was made on her life during her internment.

Larisa Arap was released on August 20 after being held for 46 days against her will in a psychiatric clinic near the northern Russian city of Murmansk.

"When the police and the doctors brought me, I was very severely beaten by medical staff in the reception area. Then they bound me, after making me strip naked in front of male patients," she said in an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service on the day of her release.

"There was an attempt to kill me," she added. "I was injected with a strong soporific, and I woke up because someone was pulling off me a woman who was suffocating me with a pillow. They put pills into my mouth, forced me to swallow them, and then checked my mouth."

Return To Soviet Methods?

The 48-year-old Arap, who is a member of an opposition group led by former chess champion Garry Kasparov, says her forced internment was retribution for an article in which she denounced abuse against young patients at another local mental institution.

She was released after a commission sent by Russia's human-rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, concluded that her detention was unfounded.

Arap's case has raised an international outcry. Reporters Without Borders joined Russian human-rights activists in comparing Arap's case to the Soviet practice of interning dissidents in psychiatric clinics.

A Murmansk court is due on August 22 to examine an appeal filed by Arap's family. But the appeal may be hampered by a declaration that Arap claims clinic staffers forced her to sign.

"I was forced to sign a declaration in which I agree that I am being treated voluntarily," she said. "I refused, after which I was asked to sign another declaration requesting to be released but pledge to get outpatient psychiatric treatment. There was no other solution than to write this declaration. They wouldn't have let me go otherwise."

A Nation's Mental State

A Nation's Mental State

'TWILIGHT ZONE': One of the best-known victims of so-called "punitive psychiatry" is dissident and writer Vladimir Bukovsky. In the 1960s and 1970s, as a diagnosed "psychopath," he experienced firsthand the forced-treatment psychiatric units where Soviet authorities sent many of its political opponents.

Bukovsky, now 65, was one of the first to expose the truth behind the Soviet "psikhushki." In the early 1970s, his detailed accounts of the practice were successfully smuggled to the West. He also coauthored "A Manual on Psychiatry for Dissidents," meant to help fellow dissidents fight persecution. In 1976, he was forcibly exiled. He has lived in Britain ever since.

In 1992, Bukovsky traveled to Moscow to visit the place he believed was responsible for a great deal of his misery -- the Serbsky Institute for Social and Forensic Psychiatry. Much of his writing documented the use of Serbsky as a state tool of repression.

In the spirit of reconciliation that came in the early years following the Soviet collapse, Serbsky director Tatyana Dmitriyeva acknowledged the role of the institute in past political repressions.

After the rise of Vladimir Putin to the presidency in 2000, however, Dmitriyeva once again recanted, saying the institute was guilty of no offense and that reports of punitive psychiatry were exaggerated.

Since then, a Serbsky official has gone on record as saying Bukovsky, at the time of his forced care, was undoubtedly "psychopathic." (As evidence, he cited the fact the dissident had written "hundreds of letters of complaint" following one of his arrests.)

Bukovsky is now seeking to return to Russia and secure a place as a candidate in Russia’s March 2008 presidential elections. A group dedicated to supporting his nomination this week issued a statement saying that, unless the Serbsky Institute formally recants, Bukovsky retains the right to sue either the institute or its employees for slander.

The statement also suggests that the Serbsky Institute's revised diagnosis may be used as a pretext for barring Bukovsky from the vote. Authorities have already tried three times to block his candidacy, pointing to the fact that Bukovsky, who was forcibly exiled in 1976, was no longer a Russian citizen and had not spent the past 10 years in Russia, as mandated by Russian law.

Bukovsky has since restored his Russian citizenship, and argues that his involuntary exile should not bar him from the vote. Bukovsky now fears his restored status as a "psychopath," may give election authorities a fresh opportunity to challenge his bid to become a presidential candidate.

The pro-Bukovsky statement notes that Dmitriyeva, the woman responsible for erasing the Serbsky Institute’s culpability in the practice of Soviet-era "punitive psychiatry," is currently a senior member of the dominant pro-Kremlin party Unified Russia.

Asked if punitive psychiatry is once again on the rise, Bukovsky said in an interview with Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" that "anything is possible in Russia. We live in a twilight zone."