YAKUTSK, Russia -- A court hearing has started in Russia's Siberian region of Yakutia to decide on the forced "treatment" in a closed psychiatric institution of a shaman who has been stopped by authorities several times in his attempts to march to Moscow by foot “to drive President Vladimir Putin out of the Kremlin.”
Aleksandr Gabyshev's sister, Kyaiyylana Zakharova, told RFE/RL that the hearing started on April 30. Gabyshev’s lawyer, Olga Timofeyeva, said that the hearing may last several days.
Timofeyeva added that state experts said at the hearing that her client poses an "extreme danger" to society and "needs to be forcibly treated in a specialized hospital under permanent supervision."
About two dozen supporters of Gabyshev gathered in front of the courthouse in the regional capital, Yakutia. They were not allowed to attend the hearing as it is being held behind closed doors.
In March, the court found Gabyshev "mentally unfit" and said he should be placed in a psychiatric clinic. The ruling was challenged by Gabyshev's lawyers and supporters, who say it is an attempt to silence dissent.
In February, police launched a probe against Gabyshev, accusing him of a "violent act against a police officer" when he was forcibly taken from his home to a psychiatric clinic in late January.
Police said at the time that the incident between Gabyshev and a law enforcement officer took place on January 27, less than three weeks after the shaman had announced his plan to resume his trek to the Russian capital to drive Putin out of the Kremlin.
In April, Zakharova told RFE/RL that her brother’s health had dramatically deteriorated, most likely, she said, due to unspecified injections he had received while in the psychiatric clinic.
Gabyshev first made headlines in March 2019 when he called Putin "evil" and announced that he had started a march to Moscow to drive the Russian president out of office.
He then 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 2019, when Gabyshev reached the city of Chita, he led 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 later in September 2019 and placed in psychiatric clinic in Yakutia for several months against his will.
His forced stay in a clinic was equated by many with a Soviet-era practice used to muzzle dissent.
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.