Writer forcibly hospitalized in Russia

August 14, 2007

His Excellency Vladimir Putin
President of the Russian Federation
The Kremlin
Moscow, Russia

Via Facsimile: 011 7 495 206 5137/206 6277

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply disturbed by the illegal psychiatric confinement in the northern city of Apatity of opposition activist Larisa Arap. Arap’s forced hospitalization on July 5 came soon after the publication of a story she coauthored on the treatment of patients at the Murmansk regional psychiatric hospital in Apatity–the same hospital where she is being held today.

On June 8, the Murmansk edition of the opposition newspaper Marsh Nesoglasnykh (Dissenters’ March)–the organ of the opposition coalition United Civic Front (OGF), led by Garry Kasparov–published Arap’s story. Titled “Durdom” (“Madhouse”), it described how harsh medical practices, such as the use of electroshock therapy, were reportedly used in treating children and adolescents at Apatity.

On July 5, Arap went to a local clinic in Severomorsk to receive the results of a medical checkup she had undergone a month earlier as a requirement to renew her driver’s license. What was intended as a routine doctor’s visit turned into a 40-day nightmare. Her doctor, Marina Rekish, who had issued a certificate for Arap a year earlier, asked her whether she was the author of “Durdom.” When Arap confirmed that she was indeed the author, Rekish told her to wait outside. After some time, the doctor returned with several police officers who detained Arap until an ambulance arrived. Arap was taken to a Murmansk hospital where 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.

On July 7, when Arap’s husband, Dmitry, and daughter, Taisiya, were allowed to visit her at the hospital, Arap complained that the medical personnel had tied her to her bed and beat her. To protest the treatment, Arap went on a five-day hunger strike on July 9. Yelena Vasilyeva, chairwoman of the Murmansk branch of OGF and Arap’s trustee, told the Russian press that Arap feared doctors were drugging her meals.

It was not until July 18 that a Murmansk district court officially sanctioned Arap’s hospitalization, meaning her 13-day detention had been illegal. The court upheld an appeal by the hospital holding Arap and ignored entreaties from her relatives and colleagues who pointed out that she was not a danger to herself or people around her.

Despite protests from local and international opposition and human rights activists, authorities continued to hold Arap and medicate her without her diagnosis. Doctors have also refused to give her diagnosis to her family, lawyer, and trustee. On July 26, the 49-year-old Arap was taken to the Murmansk regional psychiatric hospital in Apatity–the place she described in “Durdom.”

The city of Apatity is about 100 miles (161 kilometers) south of Murmansk, and the hospital is outside city limits in a forested area. Mental patients housed there are considered a danger to themselves and those around them. On July 31, during a visit to Arap at Apatity, doctors openly asked Vasilyeva whether her coalition, OGF, was afraid of publishing an article like Arap’s “Durdom.” Arap is still being held at the hospital.

Responding to local and international protests, the Russian Ombudsman for Human Rights Vladimir Lukin commissioned an independent psychiatric evaluation of Arap.

Yesterday, Yuri Savenko, president of the Independent Psychiatric Association, concluded that Arap has been illegally hospitalized, the Interfax news agency reported. “Larisa Arap has been put in a clinic by force, rudely, and without any grounds,” Savenko told Interfax. “This style, which is typical of the Soviet times–to protect the state and not the person–is used by inertia,” Savenko was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, local sources told CPJ that Larisa Arap’s daughter, Taisiya, was fired from her job at a Murmansk bank last week. Her employers told her she had been giving too many interviews about her mother.

Your Excellency, the horrifying method of forcible psychiatric detention as punishment for dissent was a trademark of the Soviet past and has no place in a new, democratic Russia. We call on you to personally intervene in the case of Larisa Arap, who has been living a nightmare because she wrote a story that angered those same hospital authorities “treating” her now. In view of yesterday’s expert conclusion by the Independent Psychiatric Association, we ask that Larisa Arap be immediately released and that a criminal investigation is opened against those responsible for her illegal detention and psychiatric treatment.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We await your reply.

Joel Simon
Executive Director