Ukrainian psychiatrists appeal for help to prevent political abuse of psychiatry

comment from "Human Rights in Mental Health - FGIP":

The case of Nadezhda Savchenko

Last week, a court on the Russian city of Voronezh held the first hearing the case of Nadezhda Savchenko, a Ukrainian citizen accused of murder. The case did not attract much international attention, even though the circumstances of Ms. Savchenko’s arrest and continued detention deserve worldwide attention and condemnation.

Under not yet fully clear circumstances she was detained, probably by agents of Russia’s secret services, kidnapped and taken to Russia, where she suddenly reappeared in the pre-trial prison in Voronezh. Protests by the Ukrainian government did not have any effect, and last week the court started hearing her case.

During this first session Ms. Savchenko appeared strong, determined, and as one of her first statements declared that the former leader of Ukraine Yanukovich was now gone and that she believed that soon Russia’s leader Putin would be gone too.

In the old Soviet tradition, such statements are apparently seen as a sign of a possible mental illness of instability, and thus the court decided to send her to the Serbski Institute for a psychiatric examination.

Over the past years, more and more people in Russia have been sent to psychiatric hospital for political reasons, or have been discredited by having a psychiatric diagnosis put on them. There is no doubt that in this case the Russian authorities plan to do exactly the same: to discredit Ms. Savchenko, to have her declared as suffering from some mental health problem and then see how the world will respond.

On that response much depends. In the case of Russian citizen Mikhail Kosenko, earlier this year, the international response resulted in him being released from forced hospital treatment, in spite of the fact that the Serbski Institute had declared him not only as mentally ill but also as a danger to himself and his environment. His treating psychiatrist disagreed, had the courage to appeal against the decision and with international pressure mounting Kosenko was sent home.

We hope you will help us accomplish the same in the case of Nadezhda Savchenko.

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