Belarusian citizens seek protection of Russian psychiatrists
Over the past two months, two Belarusian citizens sought help of the Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia (IPAR). DW figured out what Belarusians want to protect themselves from.
Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia (IPAR) was established in March 1989 as a professional association of psychiatrists, psychologists and lawyers working in psychiatry. The reason for the creation of IPAR was the misuse of psychiatry in the USSR in the 60-80s of the last century, and the main declared purpose of the IPAR was prevention of such misuse in the future. Since October 1989, the IPAR is a member of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA). Citizens of former Soviet republics can apply to the IPAR for help.
Help to Belarusians
Over the past two months, Belarusian citizens resorted to IPAR’s help twice. In April 2014, psychiatrist Ihar Pastnou from Vitsebsk underwent an independent examination. He criticised the authorities and was subjected to compulsory treatment in the locked ward of a mental hospital in Vitsebsk. Verdict of Moscow experts was unequivocal: Pastnou did not need treatment. It confirmed fears of the Belarusian human rights activists who consider Belarus as country that returned to the practice of "punitive psychiatry".
Moreover, Ihar Pastnou turned for protection to the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC). His case is presented by his trustee, human rights activist Petr Ivanou from Vitsebsk, and given a priority by the Committee. According to Ivanou, the HRC immediately sent a request to the Belarusian government asking to clarify its position on the case.
Having learned about Pastnou’s precident, a resident of Maladziechna Alesia Sadouskaja applied to IPAR in May. In 2012, Alesia was subjected to illegal actions of the law enforcement officials while being at the police department. Alesia Sadouskaja says that later she was accused of assaulting a policeman and was sent to a mental hospital "Navinki", where the medical commission came to a conclusion that she needed compulsory treatment.
Sadouskaja immediately turned to the IPAR, and its experts strongly disagreed with the opinion of the Belarusian doctors. As for today, on the basis of these arguments, the court reappointed forensic psychiatric examination of Sadouskaja.
Originating from one country
IPAR president, member of the Expert Council at the Commissioner for Human Rights in Russia Yuriy Savenko describes cases of Sadouskaya and Pastnou as "typical”. The majority of those who fall into disgrace of the police or the authorities are always considered guilty. Law enforcement agencies tend to hush up such stories, and psychiatry often accommodates it. According to Savenko, the reason is that there are many conformists among psychiatrists, and the higher position they hold, the more dependent on the authorities they are. Negative trend is observed in Russia, Savenko notes. Since the war in Chechnya in 1995, the situation in psychiatry started to gradually slide down into the Soviet past. "We all grew up in one country, so we have similar problems", Yuriy Savenko says.
He admits, however, that the situation in Russia is still much better. In most cases IPAR is able to identify cases of violation of rights of people with mental illness. And these people, having the conclusion of the IPAR, have the right to file complaints to the European Court of Human Rights.
At the international arena
Belarusians are deprived of such an opportunity because the country is not a member of the Council of Europe. And its citizens have much less opportunities for being protected in such cases. But reputational risks are very important for psychiatrists, Savenko says.
The case of Ihar Pastnou will be covered in the "Independent Psychiatric Journal" published by the IPAR, and this case will not be to Belarusian specialists’ credit. IPAR Executive Director Liubov Vinogradova notes that Belarusian case can also be raised at the Congress of the World Psychiatric Association to be held in September in Madrid. If the Belarusian human rights activists contact the WPA Secretariat, the IPAR will be ready to provide all the information on the cases it is aware of.