Opposition activist released from forced psychiatric hospitalization

New York, August 20, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes today’s release of opposition activist Larisa Arap, who was forcibly held in a Russian psychiatric hospital. Arap’s detention on July 5 came soon after the publication of her interview on the treatment of patients at the Murmansk regional psychiatric hospital in northern city of Apatity—the same hospital that held her for 26 days of her 46-day “treatment.”

Last week, CPJ sent an open letter to President Vladimir Putin asking for his personal intervention in the case after hospital authorities in Apatity refused to honor the results of an independent psychiatric evaluation of Arap that declared her hospitalization illegal.  

A medical committee discharged Arap from Apatity around noon today, Arap said from her home in Murmansk. “I was brought before a committee of Apatity doctors, who told me I was to be released,” Arap told CPJ. She said the doctors made her sign an agreement to continue her prescribed treatment at home. The doctors did not explain their decision to release her. When asked how she felt, Arap replied: “How do you expect me to feel after all I’ve been through?” She thanked everyone who supported her and lobbied for her release. A Murmansk court is scheduled to hold a hearing on August 22 on the legality of her forced hospitalization, she told CPJ.

“We are relieved that Larisa Arap is back home, reunited with her family, and that this long, horrific ordeal is behind her,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on the Murmansk courts to thoroughly examine the hospital’s actions in this case, investigate her allegations of abuse by medical personnel, and bring those responsible to justice.”

Arap’s ordeal started June 8, when she published a story in the Murmansk edition of the opposition newspaper Marsh Nesoglasnykh (Dissenters’ March), the voice of the opposition coalition United Civic Front (OGF), led by Garry Kasparov. In her article, titled “Durdom” (“Madhouse”), Arap described the harsh medical practices that were reportedly used in treating children and adolescents at the hospital in Apatity.

On July 5, Arap went to a local clinic in Severomorsk. A month earlier, she had undergone a routine medical checkup in order to renew her driver’s license. Her doctor’s visit to retrieve the results became a 46-day detention when her doctor, Marina Rekish, who had issued a certificate for Arap a year earlier, asked her whether she was the author of “Durdom.” When Rekish discovered that Arap was, indeed, the author, she told Arap to wait outside. Eventually, the doctor returned with several police officers, who held the writer until an ambulance came to take her to a hospital in Murmansk. There, she was injected with drugs that weakened her, caused her tongue to swell, blurred her vision, and affected her balance, according to relatives who visited her at the hospital.

In that same visit, Arap told relatives that the medical personnel had tied her to her bed and beat her. To protest the treatment, she went on a hunger strike. Arap also told her trustee, Yelena Vasilyeva, chairwoman of the Murmansk branch of OGF, that she feared doctors were drugging her meals.

Until July 18, Arap was held illegally. That day, a Murmansk district court officially sanctioned her hospitalization. The court ignored entreaties from her relatives and colleagues who argued that she was not a danger to herself or to people around her.

Authorities would not give Arap or her family or lawyer her medical diagnosis. International human rights activists protested her treatment to no avail.

On July 26, in a strange twist, Arap was taken to the hospital she had described in “Durdom,” in a forested area outside the city limits of Apatity. The Murmansk regional psychiatric hospital in Apatity mostly houses patients considered a danger to themselves and others.

Finally, the Russian Ombudsman for Human Rights Vladimir Lukin had an expert medical commission perform an independent psychiatric evaluation of Arap. On August 13, Yuri Savenko, president of the organization that evaluated her, the Independent Psychiatric Association, concluded that Arap had been illegally hospitalized.