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Russian Punitive Psychiatry Suppresses Political Prisoner
2017-07-21 17:32:51
Maricor Zapata

A psychiatric hospital in Chelyabinsk released Alexei Moroshkin on June 14, 2017.Moroshkin, now age 36, spent over 18 months in the hospital after he was convicted in November 2016 of inciting separatism.The court ruled that Moroshkin used social media to advocate organizing a “Urals People’s Republic,” but it bizarrely concluded that he was a paranoid schizophrenic.A post-facto diagnosis supported the ruling, and he was admitted to the Chelyabinsk hospital.

OVD-Info is an analytical, human rights group in Russia that purports itself as a domestic law enforcement watchdog.The organization focuses on the transparency of law enforcement, having originally been founded in 2011 on grassroots activism aimed at police accountable for protest mismanagement by monitoring arrests made during public demonstrations.Now with a full-scale publication and consistent reporting on law enforcement transparency in Russia, the group looks into what it refers to as “a compulsory psychiatric detention center” in Chelyabinsk broadly where prisoners are subjected to so-called punitive psychiatry.

“In March 2014, Moroshkin volunteered to participate in the Crimea annexation campaign, and then joined the Vostok separatist battalion.But after becoming disillusioned in the ‘Russian spring’, Moroshkin returned to Chelyabinsk, and became an advocate of Ukraine online.He has also been charged with vandalism over an incident in which a bust of Lenin in Chelyabinsk was painted in the colours of the Ukrainian flag.According to Moroshkin’s mother, there is no evidence that he was involved in the incident, but the investigation continues.Memorial Human Rights Center declared Moroshkin a political prisoner in July 2016,” writes OVD-Info.

OVD-Info interviewed Moroshkin about his experience in psychiatric detention, and though it sounds like an experience wrought of solely inhumane duplicity from Moroshkin’s perspective, it implies a level of neurological manipulation on the part of Russian psychiatrists that exemplifies the limits of the human mind and human will.In describing the conditions in the hospital, Moroshkin says that the staff there started him on a regimen of unidentified tablets that made him feel so terrible that he couldn’t walk.

“I had this feeling, you know, like when I stood up, I wasn’t really standing, and when I laid down, I wasn’t really lying down.I wanted to do something all the time, not knowing what that was.A real restlessness.You’re in such a state, it’s like it’s impossible to live,” Moroshkin says.

Moroshkin adds that he felt better once they stopped giving him the pills but that the regimen lasted about a month.When asked about what these drugs he was given might be or what they were intended to accomplish, Moroshkin describes the staff as not having been transparent and proceeds to explain the difficulties of dodging unwanted treatment.

“No.They didn’t say what kind of medication they were giving me.They look in your mouth, tell you to lift up your tongue—to see whether you’ve swallowed the tablets or not.The worst thing is the injections that are absorbed by the body over the course of a month.The tablets you can hide somewhere, but you can’t hide from the injections.They give you the injection, and just one injection makes you shake for a whole month.”

Moroshkin says that the injections did not persist indefinitely and that they were eventually no longer administered to him.He feels the staff feared that what they were doing to him might become public knowledge and that, for this reason, they stopped giving him the injections.He was, after all, a political prisoner with a public profile.Without the injections, though, he found the conditions to be marginally more bearable.

Moroshkin also feels that his public profile ensured that conditions did not worsen for him.He attributes the fact that no one physically attacked him to this advantage as well.No one talked to him about his trial or about politics either, yet the facility issued a statement explaining that he considered himself a political prisoner.

“Yes, that’s true.But it’s the standard thing: a person has to accept they are ill.If you don’t do that, for them it means that you don’t have your critical faculties and your condition hasn’t improved.It’s the general approach to patients.If you don’t recognise you’re ill, you’ll simply never get out.”

OVD-Info asked Moroshkin whether or not the hospital staff’s behavior changed at all when the date of his next hearing in court was announced in light of the fact that this meant Moroshkin’s hospitalization could be extended.Moroshkin said it didn’t, and that the staff informed him upfront that his detention would be prolonged the first two times.They backed this up by saying that this was always the case.

“They said that the charges against me were not minor ones.They said it was because of the political situation in the country, I should understand, because of the threat of extremism.If I’d been sent to prison, they said, my sentence would have been a light one, and I wouldn’t have been in jail for long, but in hospital I will have to stay longer.They even said that the charges against me were equivalent to terrorism, that extremists and terrorists are pretty much the same.”

One of the hospital’s department heads reportedly told Moroshkin this.Moroshkin said there was also no need for the hospital to put any kind of additional restrictions, restraints or pressures on him because the conditions were psychological restraint enough.

“Apart from the medication, which can make you feel bad, the main thing is the utter boredom.I read magazines, books, of course.But to be honest the atmosphere is not conducive to reading.Everyone says that.In prison you can read.But in the hospital things, on the whole, are worse than in prison.In prison the attitude of staff was also better, they use the respectful ‘you’ form in speaking.And for some reason if you are a ‘political’ prisoner they treat you better.I really had no complaints about staff.”

Moroshkin’s experiences seemingly pushed him to the brink of sanity, and the ostensibly coercive methods of psychiatry at this Russian facility illustrate the form of manipulation psychology can take.Russia is a country commonly accused from within as well as without of suppressing dissidents and criticism in wide variety of ways, sometimes including creative and perhaps even inhumane methods to the occasional extent of alleged murder.As such, the Kremlin is constantly managing incessant protests and demonstrations.The use of punitive psychiatry in Russia, regardless of purpose, dates back to the Soviet Union’s Committee of State Security or KGB Chairman Yuri Andropov.


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