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Russian Psychiatric Hospital Whistle-Blower Faces Blowback

Denis Kirillov in particular complains that patients are frequently stripped naked, tied to their beds, and beaten -- often for minor infractions such as rudeness or refusing to eat. And he believes some patients have died from such treatment (file photo).

MOSCOW -- A former orderly who alleges that patients at a psychiatric hospital in Russia's Tatarstan region are often stripped, bound, and beaten for minor infractions could be facing criminal charges after complaining about widespread abuse at the facility.

Denis Kirillov has been called into the Kazan office of the Investigative Committee for questioning and told that he could face prosecution for "giving false testimony." Kirillov also faces a civil lawsuit from former co-workers for allegedly "harming the commercial reputation" of the hospital.

Kirillov formerly worked at the Kazan Specialized High-Security Psychological Hospital, which is part of the Russian Health Ministry but is overseen by Tatarstan's branch of the federal prison service. Previously he worked at other detention facilities run by the prison service, including a strict-regime prison camp and the Kresty remand prison in St. Petersburg.

Earlier this month, Kirillov sent a complaint to Tatarstan's human rights ombudswoman, Saria Saburskaya, describing alleged abusive treatment at the facility and asking her "to instruct employees about the humane character of treating inmates."

"I felt sorry for the patients," Kirillov tells RFE/RL's Russian Service. "The poor things are humiliated, insulted, and beaten and no one stands up for them. They are too frightened and weak to defend their own rights."

"Patients in psychiatric hospitals suffer from lawlessness more than prisoners in camps or in remand jails. I have never seen such impunity anywhere," he adds.

Denis Kirillov
Denis Kirillov

Kirillov in particular complains that patients are frequently stripped naked, tied to their beds, and beaten -- often for minor infractions such as rudeness or refusing to eat.

"They don't give [such] patients anything to drink so that they won't need to use the toilet," Kirillov says. "They rarely feed them. These horrors take place in a separate ward so that other inmates don't ease their suffering. According to the law, a patient in a psychiatric hospital can be put under restricted movement only if he or she presents a danger to others. And the restriction can only be in place for a few hours at most. But in the hospital where I worked, a person could be bound for up to six weeks."

He says he believes there have been cases when patients died from such treatment. "But no one will investigate the cause of death carefully," Kirillov says. "'Psychos don't live long,' is what they say there."

Kirillov also says that many patients are kept heavily drugged and that "the majority of patients barely move at all."

History Of Abuse

The Kazan hospital already has a lamentable reputation. It has been the topic of scathing media reports for years and former patients have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights over alleged torture and inhumane treatment. In 2013, the Russian government sent the Strasbourg court a memorandum in which it admitted that there had been shortcomings at the hospital.

Officials at the hospital declined RFE/RL's request for a comment, while the Tatarstan branch of the federal prison service said it would only comment after the legal proceedings were concluded.

RFE/RL spoke with two former patients at the hospital, both of whom asked not to be identified and confirmed that Kirillov was telling the truth about conditions there. They both said that they had personally been abused.

"Denis is telling everything as it was," one patient said. "The patients liked him. He never insulted us and he gave us good advice. I thought that he viewed us as people."

Kirillov says he frequently came into conflict with other employees at the hospital for trying to help patients. When he unlocked restrooms so that patients could use the toilets, he was told, "Psychos have to suffer and endure." He says that he was beaten up by fellow employees a week before he quit working at the hospital.

"There are very few normal people working for UFSIN," Kirillov says, referring to the regional branch of the federal prison service. "As a rule, people go there to get a regular paycheck and to be able to act with impunity. Where else can you lord it over helpless people like that?"

"Prison workers must be [professional], especially in Russia, where there is an enormous number of innocent prisoners," Kirillov continues. "People are constantly convicted without evidence or witnesses. More and more citizens are sent to prison for political reasons."

Since he filed his complaint with the ombudswoman, Kirillov says he has received threatening phone calls at home from people saying, "They are waiting for you in prison."

He recalls that when he left the remand prison in St. Petersburg, his managers gave a good evaluation and a warning. "'Don't go against the system,'" Kirillov recalls them saying. ""It will not forgive you.'"

Robert Coalson contributed to this report