A Moscow court sentenced a 38-year-old man to indefinite confinement for forced psychiatric treatment after he took part in a mass demonstration in 2012. Human rights groups denounce the ruling marks a return to a Soviet-Styile punishment.
Mikhail Kosenko, 38, was convicted of taking part in a “riot,” referring to his participation in clashes with police on Bolotnaya Ploshchad in May 2012 in opposition to Putin, and also of using dangerous force against a member of the authorities, Zamoskvoretsky District Court ruled, informed Moscow Times.
Kosenko’s lawyer said after the verdict that he would appeal the sentence.
“The authorities are breaking the law and pretending to be men of law when facing resistance,” Kosenko said last Wednesday in his final address, cited by the website Bolotnoedelo.info.
Kosenko also requested the court to consider him as sane, although he was formally diagnosed in 2003 with a mental illness, blamed on a trauma he sustained while serving in the army. Medics said he posed no threat to society and did not require hospitalization after that injury, but he was given a disability pension.
Kosenko’s lawyer identified his client’s official diagnosis as “sluggish schizophrenia,” Radio Liberty’s Russian service said last fall. The term, denoting a form of mild schizophrenia, is not recognized by the World Health Organization, but is used by the Russian medical community.
The term dates back to late Soviet times, when it was used in punitive psychiatry. Dissidents were often slapped with the diagnosis and sent to secure mental hospitals, where they would be drugged and abused.
Kosenko’s 2003 diagnosis was revised by a new examination ordered by a court that argued for his placement in a mental hospital, Radio Liberty said.
Human Rights Watch said that In August 2012 Dr. Yuri Savenko, the head of Russia’s Independent Psychiatric Association, a Russian nongovernmental organization, told Kosenko’s lawyers that the evaluation was deeply flawed. Savenko, a prominent psychiatrist with 50 years of clinical practice, said that the Serbsky Institute experts overlooked 12 years of observations by Kosenko’s doctors, who clearly indicated in Kosenko’s medical history that he was not prone to aggression and had no violent episodes. He said the Serbsky Institute specialists also ignored the fact that Kosenko’s medications were very mild and that he had never required hospitalization.
Kosenko’s lawyers presented this evidence in court and petitioned the court to order the Serbsky Institute to carry out a new evaluation. The court dismissed the petition.
Dr. Savenko told Human Rights Watch that the Serbsky Institute’s assessment of Kosenko was “punitive” and specifically aimed at justifying forced treatment. “The case is emblematic of the use of psychiatry for political purposes,” Savenko said.
The United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, specifically noted in his report to the UN Human Rights Council in February that “free and informed consent [for psychiatric treatment] should be safeguarded on an equal basis for all individuals without any exception. He also said that the “severity of the mental illness cannot justify detention nor can it be justified by a motivation to protect the safety of the person or of others” and that “deprivation of liberty that is based on the grounds of a disability and that inflicts severe pain or suffering falls under the scope of the Convention against Torture,” Human Rights watch said.
“Kosenko has needlessly spent more than a year behind bars. Committing him to forced psychiatric treatment would be a grave violation of his rights,” the organisation said.
Even Kosenko’s request to attend the funeral of his mother, who died last month, was refused during the trial.
Kosenko’s trial saw more than one dramatic turn, including when a riot police officer who was allegedly attacked by him actually spoke up in his defense, despite being a prosecution witness.
“I am not Russian trash,” policeman Alexander Kazmin told the courtroom in July after refusing to identify Kosenko as his attacker and saying he did not want to see the activist jailed.
Kazmin’s statement prompted allegations by opposition activists that other police witnesses in the Bolotnaya case had been coerced into testifying.
Amnesty International considers that “the overwhelming weight of reliable evidence in Mikhail Kosenko’s case points to his not being involved in any violence or other illegal activities during the Bolotnaya Square protest, and his innocence of the crimes of which he has been convicted. Mikhail Kosenko is a prisoner of conscience prosecuted for the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and assembly”.