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WORKING COMMITTEE AGAINST PSYCHIATRIC ABUSE FOR POLITICAL PURPOSES

09.11.2006

The WORKING COMMITTEE AGAINST PSYCHIATRIC ABUSE FOR POLITICAL PURPOSES was created on 5 January 1977 as part of the Moscow Helsinki Group, on the initiative of member of both the MHG and the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, Petro GRIGORENKO, in order both to identify and publicize cases of psychiatric abuse and to help the victims of psychiatric repression. The members of the Committee were Viacheslav Bakhmin, Irina Grivnina, Irina Kaplun, Aleksandr Podrabinek and later Felix Serebrov and Leonard Ternovsky. Others who participated in its work were Aleksandr Voloshanovich and, from Kharkiv, Anatoly KORYAGIN.

The Committee investigated cases where individuals charged with political crimes had been declared mentally unfit and sent by the court for forced psychiatric treatment. The Committee carried out its own independent examinations attempting to find answers to three questions:

1) Had the medical examinations been carried out sufficiently conscientiously from the scientific point of view? (In order to answer this question the Committee enlisted the help of independent psychiatric experts, who sometimes gave their opinion anonymously, but sometimes agreed to their name being published)

2) Had all requirements set down in criminal procedure legislation been complied with in carrying out the examination?

3) Had the actions which the defendant was charged with presented a sufficient level of public danger to warrant forced treatment?

Where a negative response was received to at least one of the three questions (and in the majority of cases, to all three), the Committee raised the question of having the court ruling reviewed.

In addition, the Committee gathered and publicized information about the conditions in special psychiatric hospitals, investigated cases where individuals had been forcibly placed in psychiatric hospitals without a court ruling, on the basis of instructions regarding emergency hospitalization, prepared and raised issues pertaining to the rights of individuals suffering with psychological disorders and published an information bulletin (there were 24 issues in total.)

The activities of the Working Committee were helped by support from the world community. In August 1977 the Committee prepared an Appeal “To Psychiatrists taking part in the Honolulu Congress”, this being the VI Congress of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA). The book by Aleksandr Podrabinek “Punitive medicine” giving information about psychiatric abuse in the USSR was passed to the Congress which reviewed the evidence sent by the Working Committee and issued a resolution condemning the Soviet Union.

Over four years all members of the Committee were arrested (with the exception of Irina Kaplun who was killed in a car accident in July 1980). After the arrest of the last member of the Committee, Leonard Ternovsky (February 1981), it totally ceased to function. However the Committee had succeeded in drawing the attention of international medical and psychiatric associations and the world community to the problem of punitive psychiatry in the USSR.  In 1983, faced with the threat of being expelled from the World Psychiatric Association over its use of psychiatry for political purposes, the USSR withdrew from the organization.

Kyrylo Lymanov

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