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Russia: Opposition Activist Awaits Release From Psychiatric Hospital
By Chloe Arnold
Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

MOSCOW, August 16, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's human-rights ombudsman is calling for the release of an opposition activist who has spent more than a month locked in a psychiatric hospital.

Vladimir Lukin recommends that Larisa Arap be discharged from the Murmansk Regional Psychiatric Hospital, where she has been held since July 5.

Lukin wants an independent assessment of Arap after human-rights groups, the United Civic Front, and members of her family all charged that she has been forcibly detained in retaliation for criticizing local health officials. Arap herself believes she was forcibly admitted to the unit because she reported child abuse in local psychiatric wards.

'Punitive Medicine Still Alive'

The president of the Independent Psychiatric Association, Yury Savenko, who assessed Arap last week, told the Interfax news agency he believed she is being held "illegally" and that her case "is evidence that punitive medicine is still alive." He said this was a "style typical of Soviet times -- to protect the state and not the person."

The Independent Psychiatric Association was not available for comment.

The president of the Independent Psychiatric Association, Yury Savenko, says he believes Arap's case is a "style typical of Soviet times -- to protect the state and not the person."

Despite the calls for her release, Arap said today in a telephone interview that she is still being held in the psychiatric unit.

"I was very happy [when I heard Lukin's recommendation], and I had high hopes that his advice would be acted upon," she told RFE/RL. "But [the doctors] are not submitting to it. They aren't discharging me. They're thinking up excuses, trying to persuade me to move to a different ward instead. They're not giving a concrete date for my release. They're not giving a concrete date for when their own commission will meet [to decide on my release]."

Arap is a member of the opposition United Civic Front, headed by Garry Kasparov. In June, she contributed to a story in a local newspaper that exposed barbaric practices at children's wards in the region's psychiatric hospitals. In the article, titled "Madhouse," she made allegations of systematic child abuse and rape.

Return To Soviet-Era Practices?

Human-rights advocates say her detention is a return to Soviet-era practices, when dissenters were frequently detained in mental-health institutions.

Doctors and local health officials have denied any link between Arap's article or her political activities and her admission to the psychiatric unit. They say she has been hospitalized in the past with mental health problems. Her husband, Dmitry Tereshin, confirmed that she spent two weeks in a psychiatric unit in 2004, but said doctors are using this as an excuse to detain her.

Tereshin says he is hopeful his wife will be released within the next few days.

"At the moment, Larisa Ivanovna and I are talking," Tereshin said. "She hasn't been discharged yet. We're still in the hospital. They are assessing her case and are making a decision. But at least we expect Larissa Ivanovna to be discharged."

The United Civic Front has condemned Arap's detention and called for her immediate release.