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Decision To Place Anti-Putin Shaman In Psychiatric Clinic Challenged

Aleksandr Gabyshev was forcibly placed in a psychiatric clinic against his will after 20 police officers stormed into his home last month. (file photo)
Aleksandr Gabyshev was forcibly placed in a psychiatric clinic against his will after 20 police officers stormed into his home last month. (file photo)

MOSCOW -- A Siberian court ruling placing in a psychiatric clinic a Siberian shaman who gained notoriety for claiming to want to remove President Vladimir Putin from power has been challenged by several Russian lawmakers.

Aleksandr Gabyshev was forcibly placed in a psychiatric clinic against his will after 20 officers from a special police unit of Russia's National Guard stormed into his home in Yakutsk, the capital of the Siberian region of Yakutsk, on May 12 and detained him.

Gabyshev's lawyers said on May 26 that they filed a complaint with the European Court for Human Rights challenging their client's being confined to a psychiatric clinic against his will and without a court ruling, which they said was illegal.

He was briefly released on May 29, a day after his lawyer, Olga Timofeyeva, filed a complaint with the Yakutsk city court questioning the legality of his forced placement in the clinic.

But a court in Yakutsk subsequently ruled on June 2 that Gabyshev must be confined to a psychiatric clinic.

Fedot Tumusov, a lawmaker from the A Just Russia party and deputy head of the State Duma's Health Protection Committee, told the Kommersant daily on June 4 that the medical report on which the court based its ruling to confine Gabyshev to a psychiatric clinic "sparked doubts about their legality."

Tumusov said he had urged Prosecutor-General Igor Krasnov to intervene in the case. "Residents of Yakutia are disturbed by the court's decision," said Tumusov, who, like Gabyshev, is a native of Yakutia himself.

Also, on June 4, another lawmaker, Boris Mendelevich of the ruling United Russia party, asked Health Minister Mikhail Murashko to assess the legitimacy of the court's decision.

Mendelevich, who is a professional psychologist, compared Gabyshev's forced confinement to the Soviet-era practice of using psychiatric clinics as detention centers for dissidents.

Viktor Gubarev, the leader of the Yakut branch of the Communist Party, said that "medical experts who found Gabyshev mentally ill should answer more questions than Gabyshev himself."

Earlier this week, Sardana Avksentyeva, the mayor of Yakutsk, publicly called Gabyshev's detainment "a selective punitive action."

Amnesty International said Gabyshev "has been made an enemy of the state solely for voicing his dislike of Putin."

"By co-opting first the police and now the psychiatric system to do their bidding, the Russian authorities have revealed the astonishing lengths they will go to repress critics," the London-based, human rights watchdog said.

In early May, Gabyshev posted a video on YouTube that showed him performing a traditional Yakut shaman's dance while chanting, "Very soon you all will break free."

Gabyshev first made headlines last year when he called Putin "evil" and announced that a march to Moscow to drive the Russian president out of the Kremlin.

Shaman On 8,000-Kilometer Trek 'To Topple Putin'
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Gabyshev set off for Moscow in March last year and walked more than 2,000 kilometers, speaking with hundreds of Russians along the way.

As his notoriety rose, videos of his conversations with people were posted on social media and attracted millions of views.

In July, when Gabyshev reached the city of Chita, he gathered a 700-strong rally under the slogan "Russia without Putin!"

At the time, Gabyshev said, "God told me that Putin is not human but a demon, and has ordered me to drive him out."

His march was halted when he was detained in the region of Buryatia in September.

He was transferred to Yakutia, where he was confined to a psychiatric clinic.

He was released in October, after independent experts hired by his lawyers challenged the local psychiatrists' diagnosis of mental instability, concluding that Gabyshev is sane, does not need treatment in a psychiatric clinic, and is not a danger to society.

In December, Gabyshev and two supporters attempted to resume the march toward Moscow, ignoring Yakutia's sub-zero temperatures.

But they were stopped again by police and forced to return.

Shamans have served as healers and diviners in Siberia for centuries. During the Soviet era, the mystics were harshly repressed. But in isolated parts of Siberia, they are now regaining prominence.

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