Psychiatry as a Tool of Political Repression in Crimea

Elena Lysenko
A picket for the release of Crimean lawyer Emil Kurbedinov on 31 January 2017 in Simferopol, Ukraine. Photo by Elena Lysenko

Psychiatry as a Tool of Political Repression in Crimea
Madeline Roache
Special to The Russian Reader
April 9, 2017

Lawyers and human rights activists claim the Russian authorities in annexed Crimea have been persecuting human rights activists, most of whom belong to the Muslim Crimean Tatar community. The Crimean Tatars, who make up about 15% of Crimea’s population, have vocally opposed Russia’s occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula since February 2014. As a result, the group has been specially targeted by Russian authorities. Many Crimean Tatars have been forced to leave the region to avoid harassment and arbitrary arrest.

According to a new report, presented on March 23 by Ukrainian advocacy group Crimea SOS, a total of 43 local activists have been abducted since Russian troops occupied Crimea in February 2014—allegedly, by the Russian authorities and their accomplices. Eighteen of those who were abducted are still missing and six have been found dead.

Robert van Voren, a Dutch human rights activist and political scientist, said that, since the annexation, many Crimean Tatar activists who oppose the occupation have been arrested and subjected to abuse and imprisonment in psychiatric institutions.

“Since the annexation of Crimea, Russian authorities have prosecuted and forced into exile virtually all those who oppose the Russian occupation, including key leaders and activists within the Crimean Tatar community”, he said.

Emil Kurbedinov, a prominent Crimean lawyer, told the Guardian that, between December 2016 and March 2017, twelve Crimean activists were forcibly admitted to psychiatric hospitals in Crimea. Four of them remain in hospital, while the rest have either been transferred to prison or discharged.

According to Kurbedinov, Crimean activists are treated in a degrading way and face appalling conditions in psychiatric hospitals.

“Some are placed in isolation and are denied their basic needs, such as access to a toilet. Others are housed with numerous people suffering from severe mental illnesses. The activists are interrogated about their alleged involvement in ‘extremism’ and their views of the government. They are also deprived of the right to speak with their families or meet their lawyers on a one-to-one basis without a guard being present. All of this violates international law,” he said.

All of the Crimean activists were arrested on suspicion of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, which Russia, unlike Ukraine and other countries, has declared a terrorist group. The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) asserts there is no evidence to suggest the organisation has anything to do with terrorism, nor is there any proof the men were even involved in the group.

Kurbedinov says their arrest was illegal and a breach of protocol, as it was not sanctioned by a judge but ordered by a police investigator.

According to KHPG, a further 19 Crimean activists are currently in custody, accused of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. Memorial, a Russian human rights organization, has declared all the activists in custody political prisoners. KHPG claims that one of the detainees, Emir Kuku, was most likely arrested due to his work for the Crimean Contact Group on Human Rights, which provides legal assistance and support to members of Muslim groups.

Last year, Kurbedinov defended Ilmi Umerov, a Crimean Tatar activist who openly opposed the Russian occupation. Umerov was sent against his will to a psychiatric hospital in August 2016. Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) detained Umerov in May 2016 in the Bakhchysarai District and charged him with separatism. Umerov is also a representative in the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, an elected body that was suspended by Moscow after it annexed Crimea. Human Rights Watch heavily criticized the case, calling it “a shameful attempt to use psychiatry to silence [Umerov] and tarnish his reputation.” Umerov was released twenty days after his confinement.

Kurbedinov argues that these cases have “acutely raised the issue of the vulnerability of ordinary citizens who have no civil rights whatsoever before the legal and judicial monolith.”

Soviet Psychiatry
The practice of punitive psychiatry in the present day is particularly disturbing given its historical use as a tool of rampant political repression the in the later decades of the Soviet era. Psychiatry was used to systematically confine and punish Soviet dissidents. However, under President Vladimir Putin, cases of the alleged political abuse of psychiatry have resurfaced, leading many to believe that the Soviet-era practice has returned.

The involuntary hospitalization of protestor Mikhail Kosenko in Russia in 2012, is just one of many modern-day cases that has been widely held up as an example of the political abuse of psychiatry. Kosenko was convicted on charges of rioting and assaulting a police officer during the Bolotnaya Square anti-Putin protests in Moscow on May 6, 2012. The case sparked international attention from human rights activists, who asserted the charges were fabricated and that Kosenko’s hospitalization was unnecessary.

The abuse of psychiatry in Russian criminal trials is not uncommon, according to Yuri Savenko, psychiatrist and head of the Independent Psychiatric Association (IPA) in Russia.

“Psychiatry is now frequently part of the procedure in criminal trials where there is no concrete evidence: it is more economical in terms of time and effort just to obtain a psychiatric diagnosis,” he says.

This disturbing phenomenon is of particular concern to the Federation Global Initiative on Psychiatry (FGIP), a human rights organization that protects human rights in mental healthcare. FGIP closely monitors the practice and is currently compiling a report about cases of psychiatric abuse in the post-Soviet states, to be published later this month.

Madeline Roache is a London-based freelance journalist focusing on human rights conditions in the former Soviet Union. Her work has been published in The Guardian, The Times of Central Asia, and Euromaidan Press.

The Eighty Percent: Defending Ethnic Russians in Russia

Ahtem Chiygoz, a member of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars who has spent the last year and a half in jail on trumped-up charges of "organizing rioting" and "destruction of property." Photo courtesy of 112 UA and RFE/RL
Ahtem Chiygoz, a member of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People who has spent the last year and a half in jail on trumped-up charges of “organizing rioting” and “destruction of property.” Photo courtesy of 112 UA and RFE/RL. See the second article, below, for details

FADN Called on to Protect Ethnic Russians
Irina Nagornykh
Kommersant
July 27, 2016

Nine percent of Russian citizens feel they are discriminated against ethnically. In some regions, for example, Tuva, such citizens constitute as many as twenty-six percent, and they hail from the Russian-speaking population. These figures were arrived at by pollsters commissioned by the Federal Agency for Ethnic Affairs (FADN), Igor Barinov, the agency’s head, said yesterday at the Terra Scientia camp. Barinov promised to protect the ethnic Russian population in such regions, and said next year the agency planned to earmark 170 million rubles [approx. 2.3 million euros] on grants for projects in the field of interethnic relations.

Barinov cited the results of a сlassified Georating survey conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) while speaking to young people at the Terra Scientia Russian Education Youth Forum on the Klyazma River on the last day of a session that brought together young experts in the field of interethnic relations. According to Barinov, the poll was conducted in June at the FADN’s behest. Pollsters discovered that, on average nationwide, nine percent of the population experienced ethnic discrimination. In certain regions, however, such as Karachay-Cherkessia and Tuva, the situation was more tense. In Tuva, twenty-six percent of citizens complained of ethnic discrimination.

According to Barinov, the number coincided with the number of Russian speakers resident in Tuva, which means we can assume it was this segment of the population who felt they were ethnically discriminated against. Barinov was asked who would protect the interests of ethnic Russians. According to some young people in the audience, ethnic Russian were not as well organized in defending their interests as other ethnic groups in Russia. Barinov cited the fact that 115 million ethnic Russians resided in the Russian Federation, which constituted eighty percent of the country’s population, and in places where the ethnic Russian population predominated, as in Central Russia, this assistance was social and economic in nature. But in regions like Karachay-Cherkessia and Tuva, he promised to protect ethnic Russians.

“We have the authority,” he stressed.

Responding to the same question, Magomedsalam Magomedov, who oversees ethnic relations in the presidential administration, said the “Russian people’s historical mission [was] to unite Russia’s ethnic groups,” and the outcome was the “emergence of a unique civilization whose national leader is President Vladimir Putin.”

“None of the ethnic groups in Russia can feel good if the Russian people feels bad,” concluded to Mr. Magomedov.

According to Barinov, next year the FADN plans to allocate around 170 million rubles on grants for projects in the field of ethnic relations.

“If everything is okay with the budget. We’re at the head of the Finance Ministry’s queue,” he added, reminding the audience that the FADN is awaiting the transfer of the part of the Federally Targeted Program for developing Crimea that concerns the rehabilitation of ethnic groups repressed during Soviet times.

Campers will receive several grants in the amounts of 300,000, 200,000, and 100,000 rubles to support existing interethnic policy projects in the country’s regions from the camp’s organizers: the Russian Federal Public Chamber, Rosmolodezh (Russian Federal Agency for Youth Affairs), and the presidential administration’s Office for Domestic Policy. Moreover, the FADN plans to summarized suggestions made by the campers on concepts for celebrating National Unity Day (November 4), including the brand Russian Braid, which would weave together all the peoples of Russia, comics about different ethnic groups on buses, video clips in airports, and the project Travel with Purpose, which would involve ethnic youth exchange tourism. Session participants plan to appeal to the present not to limit the celebrations to one day a war, but to declare an entire “year of national unity.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up

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Who Is Ahtem Chiygoz? The Story of a Crimean Tatar Political Prisoner
Ehor Vasylyev
112 UA
July 29, 2016

A Case That Will Last for Years
Ahtem Chiygoz was arrested on January 29, 2015, as part of the so-called February 26 case. That day he went to the State Investigative Committee in Crimea for questioning, and in the evening the illegitimate Kyiv District Court of Simferopol sentenced him to three months in police custody.

Chiygoz was charged under Article 212.1 of Criminal Code of the Russian Federation: organization of riots accompanied by violence and destruction of property.

Russia accuses activists of being involved in the “riots” on February 26, 2014, which arose near the Crimean parliament during two rallies, one held by the supporters of Ukraine’s territorial integrity , another, by activists of the party Russian Unity.

Since Chiygoz’s arrest, the Crimean courts have been periodically extending his time in police custody. (The last time it was extended until October 8, 2016.)

From March 8 to March 11, 2016, Chiygoz was a hostage: a so-called judge of the Crimean Supreme Court, Galina Redko, arbitrarily (extrajudicially) extended his time in jail.

In addition to Chiygoz, other Crimean Tatars have been charged with involvement in the “riots”: Ali Asanov, Mustafa Degermendzhi, Eskender Kantemirov, Arsene Yunusov, and Eskender Emirvaliev.

The first two have been in police custody for over a year. Another two men, Eskender Nebiev and Talat Yunusov, have already been convicted and sentenced to probation.

In February 2016, two years after the events, the court decided to re-investigate the case. Chiygoz, Asanov, and Degermendzhi were forced to remain in custody.

On July 20, the preliminary hearing began, but it was closed to the public. The Supreme Court of Crimea proposed to divide the case and try Chiygoz separately from the other defendants.

“There are 80 injured parties and witnesses: the case could drag on for years. The court usually questions one or two witnesses a day,” says one of Chiygoz’s lawyers, Emil Kurbedinov.

An Alien Land
Russian prosecutors accuse Ahtem Chiygoz of acts carried out in Ukraine by a Ukrainian citizen against other Ukrainian citizens. Russian prosecutors have prosecuted only Crimean Tatars.

The prosecution is trying to assert the right of the Russian justice system to react to the February 26 rally, which was allegedly directed against Russian interests. The prosecutor general says Russian Unity had a special permit for holding a rally, while the Mejlis did not have such a document.

In addition to violence during the riots, Chiygoz is accused of destruction of property.

“Unidentified Crimean Tatars rushed into the Crimean Parliament, damaged and destroyed its property in the amount of 9,730 rubles,” claims one of the court documents. However, a few hours after the incident, armed Russians occupied the Crimean Parliament and also damaged property.

Why Chiygoz?
“Ahtem Chiygoz at first took a moderately radical position. The prosecutor’s office called him a man ‘in charge of the Mejlis power bloc.’ In winter 2014, he openly expressed the quite radical position that we should not recognize anything,” noted First Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis Nariman Jalal.

In fact, Chiygoz’s position coincides with the opinion of Ilmi Umerov, who is known as an experienced, fairly moderate politician. Ilmi Umerov is quite close to Chiygoz. They both belong to the Bakhchisarai wing of the Mejlis.

“In 2014, we organized many pickets, along the roads, near the military units. Ahtem was actively involved in organizing these events,” says Umerov.

Chiygoz was warned about avoiding “extremist activity,” and some people even complained about him to the Russian FSB. However, Chiygoz did not stop his work, and a month before his arrest, he attended a meeting between Crimean leaders Mustafa Dzhemilev and Refat Chubarov and Ukrainian President Poroshenko.

In 2014, the two Crimean Tatar leaders, Dzhemilev and Chubarov, were not allowed entry to Crimea.

“Chubarov had five deputies, and Ahtem was the main one,” Umerov explains.

Dzhemilev and Chubarov were refused entry to Crimea as a part of a Russian plan. The Mejlis should be headed by a collaborator. Ahtem Chiygoz was the main obstacle to implementing this plan.

“The Russians believed that Chiygoz encouraged them to rebel. That was why they decided to remove him. At the same time, Chiygoz has been a ‘show’ victim: do not stick your heads out, otherwise your fate will be the same,” stresses Nariman Jalal.

But the plans to co-opt the Mejlis have failed.

“It was a miscalculation. They thought Chiygoz was a kind of central link. They failed to realize the majority of the members of the Mejlis took the same position as Chiygoz; they did not want to be co-opted,” adds the First Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis.

Chiygoz called upon all Crimean Tatars to harshly boycott compatriots who collaborated with the occupying power.

“Different challenges have befallen our people. And we deal with them with honor! No one can break us with prisons or camps! We are not afraid of searches and arrests! We cannot be fooled by puppets! Crimea will never be without the Crimean Tatars,” Chiygoz has written from prison.

And his name is etched in gold in the history of Crimea.

The original of this article was published, in Russian, by Ukrainska Pravda. I have lightly edited the heavily abridged English translation, above, to make it more readable. TRR

The Prosecutor General’s Speech

Crimean Prosecutor General Natalia Poklonskaya, arguing before the Crimean Supreme Court today, April 26, 2016, on why the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People should be declared an extremist organization and banned in the Russian Federation.

Crimean Prosecutor Natalia Poklonskaya
Crimean Prosecutor General Natalia Poklonskaya. Photo courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

“The Mejlis receives protection and support from international terrorist organizations,” she said. “It is no coincidence that such organizations, which are banned in Russia, as the Gray Wolves, who killed Russian pilot Oleg Peshkov in Syria, and Hizb ut-Tahrir have spoken out in support of the Mejlis.”

According to Poklonskaya, Mejlis leader Refat Chubarov “has not ceased [his] extremist activities even during proceedings on banning the organization, but on the contrary has continued work aimed at violating Russia’s territorial integrity, participating in the formation of the volunteer Crimean Tatar battalion Asker, whose goal is to tear Crimea away from Russia.”

“Today, may it please the court to hear, we are building a world in which every Crimean will live safely and happily, where roses will bloom and grapes grow,” said Poklonskaya. “The Mejlis is trying with all its might to prevent this. Why do we need this Mejlis?”

Finally, the prosecutor quoted from St. John of Kronstadt.

“If we gather everyone’s will into one will, we will stand our ground! If we gather everyone’s conscience into one conscience, we will stand our ground! If we gather everyone’s love for Russia into one love, we will stand our ground!”

Source: Novaya Gazeta

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The Mejlis was labeled an “extremist organization” and subsequently banned by the Crimean Supreme Court on April 26, 2016. According to Regional Prosecutor General Natalia Poklonskaya, it was banned because its leaders had sought to destabilize Crimea since the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia through the “promotion of aggression and hatred towards Russia, inciting ethnic nationalism and extremism in society.” Also on April 26, 2016, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, urged the court to reverse the ban since he believed “equating [the Mejlis] with extremism paves the way for the stigmatization and discrimination of a significant part of the Crimean Tatar community and sends a negative message to that community as a whole.” Exiled in mainland Ukraine, the Chairman of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov, stated the court’s decision was unjustifiable and that “the occupiers in Crimea are doing everything to crush the Crimean Tatars and force everyone to be silent.” Amnesty International stated the ban “demolishes one of the few remaining rights of a minority that Russia must protect instead of persecute.” The Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis, Nariman Dzhelal, vowed the organization would try to continue its work despite the ban, “it will continue working in Ukraine and other countries.”

Source: Wikipedia (slightly adapted for readability)