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Siberian Shaman Who Sought To Drive Out Putin Sent To Psychiatric Clinic

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Aleksandr Gabyshev (center) walked hundreds of kilometers and spoke with hundreds of people along the way.

YAKUTSK, Russia -- A court in Russia has ruled that Aleksandr Gabyshev, a shaman in the Siberian region of Yakutia who gained notoriety in 2019 after declaring that he wanted to drive President Vladimir Putin from power, must be forcibly placed in a psychiatric clinic.

Aleksei Pryanishnikov, a legal coordinator for the opposition group Open Russia, told RFE/RL that a court in the city of Yakutsk announced the decision on June 2.

According to Pryanishnikov, the court's decision was based on the medical conclusion of the central psychiatric clinic in Yakutsk, which said Gabyshev suffers from an "overestimation of his personality" because he expressed his intention to drive Putin out of the Kremlin.

Pryanishnikov rejected the decision, saying that such a medical conclusion did not prove that Gabyshev is mentally ill, and complained that the ruling did not say how long Gabyshev must stay in the clinic.

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 watchdog said.

Gabyshev was 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 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 held in a psychiatric clinic against his will and without a court ruling, which they said was illegal.

Gabyshev was 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.

Pryanishnikov told RFE/RL that the June 2 ruling was illegal because police detained three defense witnesses, who "most likely" will be charged with violating coronavirus restrictions, just prior to the hearing.

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

Gabyshev made headlines in 2019 when he called Putin "evil" and announced that he would march to Moscow in an attempt to drive the Russian president out of the Kremlin.

Starting the journey in March 2019, Gabyshev 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 about 700 people together for a rally under the slogan "Russia without Putin!"

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

Shaman On 8,000-Kilometer Trek 'To Topple Putin'
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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 and then released.

In October, psychiatrists in Yakutsk said Gabyshev was mentally unstable. But independent experts hired by the shaman's lawyers concluded that Gabyshev is mentally sound, 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 to Moscow, ignoring Yakutia's sub-zero temperatures.

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

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 importance.

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