Psychiatric sentence for anti-Putin protester is ‘return to Soviet tactics’


A Moscow court has found a protester guilty of assaulting a police officer at an anti-President Putin rally last year, sentencing him to forced psychiatric treatment in a trial that has been widely seen as politicised.

Mikhail Kosenko, 38, was one of 27 people arrested and charged with inciting mass riots after protesters clashed with police at a May 2012 protest on Bolotnaya Square against the re-election of  Mr Putin to a third term as president. He was the only one charged with assaulting a police officer. Although two of those charged previously pled guilty and were sentenced to prison terms, Kosenko is the first to be convicted of those who pleaded not guilty.

Kosenko was sentenced to forced treatment in a psychiatric hospital for an indefinite period, even as his lawyers called for him to placed in prison instead. Kosenko is disabled, having suffered a brain injury after being beaten in the army in the 1980s, but has previously been treated on an outpatient basis.

Prosecutors argued that Kosenko suffers from schizophrenia and requires treatment, while the defence maintained his innocence and said his condition does not merit forced treatment. The prosecution of the Bolotnaya defendants has widely been decried as an intimidation and Soviet-like tactic against the rash of street opposition protests that broke out in 2011 and 2012. Amnesty International recently declared Kosenko and two other Bolotnaya Square defendants as “prisoners of conscience” and Human Rights Watch has called for the charges against Kosenko to be withdrawn.

Video footage from the Bolotnaya protest on 6 May 2012 showed Kosenko standing harmlessly while other protesters clashed with riot police. And the riot policeman Kosenko allegedly assaulted refused to testify against him, saying he didn’t remember the faces of his attackers and that Kosenko shouldn’t go to prison. In a survey conducted by the independent Levada Centre, 55 per cent of Russians who knew about the Bolotnaya case viewed it as an attempt to intimidate opposition sympathisers.