How Quiet Peace Activist Vorobyovsky Wound Up in a Mental Hospital: His Lawyer’s Story
May 11, 2016
On May 6, someone rang the door of Voronezh grassroots activist Dmitry Vorobyovsky. The people at the door said they were from the municipal gas company. However, as soon as they entered the apartment, it turned out they were psychiatric hospital orderlies. They suddenly restrained Vorobyovsky, despite his sister’s protests, and took him to the Voronezh Psychiatric Hospital in the city’s outlying Tenistyi neighborhood. Vorobyovsky is currently at the hospital, where he has been injected with unknown drugs.
At 2:15 p.m. on May 12, the Soviet District Court in Voronezh will hear Vorobyovsky’s case. The psychiatric hospital wants to get a legal seal of approval for his hospitalization. Civil rights activists have launched a campaign of support and have asked people to send letters to the Prosecutor General’s Office.
How legal and justified was the activist’s hasty hospitalization? To find out, I spoke with his lawyer, Olga Gnezdilova.
Was there any background or reason for what happened?
Theoretically, there is a background. The doctors cite the fact he was diagnosed in 1983, and he had been registered with the hospital. But he has felt absolutely normal for thirty years. He has not been aggressive. So now we have posed the question: if he needs treatment, then prescribe a course of treatment. He can undergo treatment at home. After all, he was not showing any signs of needing hospitalization or even treatment, meaning he interacted normally with other people and went to protest rallies. But of course he really irritated the local authorities. He has been detained by police on several occasions. But there are no grounds for subjecting him to compulsory medical treatment.
Were there incidents when he behaved aggressively?
No, Dmitry is generally a very calm person. He holds pacifist convictions. He is against violence, and he has protested the war in Ukraine. He is a very cultured, polite person. He has never had any aggressive outbursts his entire life, although formally, he had this diagnosis. On the other hand, even odd behavior is not cause in itself for forcible hospitalization.
He has been absolutely calm and living with his sister. They entered his home under false pretenses, by pretending to be city gas company employees. His sister objected to his being detained, since were no grounds for it at all. When I spoke with him, he told me the whole story himself.
Why do we have to go to court now? Because there we can voice an alternative stance. We need a platform where we can voice our arguments. Currently, he is basically being held against his will, but by law a court hearing has to verify the validity of the claims against him. In court, we can petition to conduct an alternative forensic examination as to whether he is a danger or not. Generally, being a danger to society or oneself is grounds for involuntary hospitalization: for example, if a person beats his head against the wall or plans to kill someone. This does not apply to anyone and everyone whose health is a bit quirky.
What, in your opinion, was the real reason for the hospitalization?
At first, we thought it had to with the May 9 celebrations, which were attended by various officials. Dmitry often takes to the street with placards. It is usually one and the same placard. [See the photograph, above — Editor.] They probably thought he would spoil the “view” for them.
But now it is May 11, and he still has not been released. So, basically, it is hard to say. Maybe it has something to do with the [nationwide parliamentary] elections [in September]?
Some dispatched an ambulance to his house. The hospital won’t say who it was. We think it was the work of our secret service.
How is Vorobyovsky now? Are they giving him shots of some kind?
Yes, they are injecting him with drugs. We don’t know what they are. The doctors are not telling either us or him what they are, claiming it is confidential medical information.
But have they affected his condition?
Basically, he feels okay right now. He is not sluggish or sleepy. I have spoken with him: he conversed with me normally. It is another matter how long this will last.
Tell me, how does the whole situation appear from a legal point of view? They gained entry to his home disguised as municipal gas company employees, restrained him, and took him away.
From a legal point of view, they should have put the issue to the court within forty-eight hours. We really expected a hearing on May 8. We spent the whole day running around to the on-duty prosecutor, to the court, to the hospital. Everywhere we went, we told them that since they had detained him right before the holidays, on a business day, at five in the afternoon on May 6, then be so kind as to put the issue to the court, find an on-duty judge. But we were told that on-duty judges do not rule on such matters, only on arrests. There is a law that allows judges five days to review the hospital’s petition. But at the same time, this provision had already been ruled unconstitutional a bit earlier. Generally speaking, according to the Constitution, any detention must be authorized by a court within forty-eight hours. Even if a person is considered violent, and they grabbed him and tied him up, be so kind as to put the question of his hospitalization to the court.
That did not happen, and we believe this is a serious violation. We have already obtained authorization from Vorobyovsky for an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, at least in connection with his being detained for forty-eight hours without a court order and his being tied to the bed.
He was tied up?
Yes, for the first three hours after he was brought to the hospital, he lay tied up. His hands and feet were tied. His body went numb, of course. It is a very painful procedure. We are going to file a complaint.
Where is he now?
Vorobyovsky is at the Voronezh Municipal Psychiatric Hospital, in the Tenistyi neighborhood.
Do you think he ended up there because of his public activism?
We think someone instigated the call due to his public activism.
What protest rallies was Dmitry involved in?
Practically in everything that took place. For example, he was involved in a picket in defense of [imprisoned environmentalist] Yevgeny Vitishko, in a rally against the war in Ukraine, in a rally against proposed nickel mining in Voronezh Region. Basically, he has always joined in every opposition event. And yet on his part there have never been any conflicts or aggression, any reason to isolate him from society, like now.
But there were arrests?
Yes, there were administrative detentions. But that is a common occurrence at such events. A few people are always detained by police.
What are your next moves for getting him out?
We are now mostly waiting for the court’s decision. We cannot go any further without it.
On May 8, we appealed to the prosecutor’s office to intervene. They forwarded our appeal to the Investigative Committee. It now must make a decision within three working days, beginning yesterday. However, under these circumstances it is the prosecutor’s office and the court that will primarily be making the decision.
As soon the court’s ruling is rendered, we will be contacting the European Court of Human Rights. It cannot be done earlier.
In addition, Amnesty International has now launched a campaign for people to bombard the prosecutor’s office and the municipal health committee with requests to comment on Vorobyovsky’s case.
Journalists in Voronezh have told me that all day yesterday people were calling the city health authorities and mental health clinic. However, citing medical confidentiality, the officials refused to comment even on the fact that Vorobyovsky has been detained too long without a court hearing. Meaning they will not even answer questions have nothing directly to do with medical issues. The prosecutor’s office has been telling callers they can complain to the Investigative Committee, that they are not planning to do anything.
At the moment, we are hoping the campaign will ultimately make them start giving people answers.
How are the doctors behaving under the circumstances?
Differently. The on-duty doctor who was there when I visited the hospital and asked Vorobyovsky to come out of his room and meet me, basically agreed with me when I said he was completely normal and behaving well. Yet she said that was because he had already been receiving treatment. The deputy chief physician, with whom I spoke on the phone, told me quite confidently they would definitely file suit, and that there were grounds for compulsory treatment and confinement in the hospital. But he considers Vorobyovsky’s diagnosis such grounds. Yet the doctor could not tell me the reason for the hospitalization and said the hospital did not know who called the ambulance.
I gather that who called the ambulance is the big secret?
Yes. And the hospital also believes that Dmitry is having a relapse. But the question is what this relapse consists of.
So a man is sitting at home, not bothering anybody, and an unknown person calls the ambulance for some reason. So the next event is the court hearing on May 12?
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Amnesty International