Russian opposition activist held in psychiatric hospital

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The Independent Online

A Russian opposition activist was committed to a psychiatric hospital on the eve of an anti-government protest that he was organising, his supporters said yesterday. It is the latest in a series of incidents suggesting that the Soviet-era practice is being revived.

Artem Basyrov, 20, is being held in a hospital in the central Russian republic of Mari El, said Alexander Averin, of the opposition National Bolshevik Party. The party is part of the Other Russia coalition, which organised the "Dissenters' Marches" around Russia.

Mr Basyrov was seized on 23 November, a day before the protest, and had run for the local legislature as an Other Russia candidate.

Police claimed that Mr Basyrov had assaulted a girl, and a local psychiatric board, agreeing with the police, said that he was suffering from a mental illness.

Mr Basyrov had been being kept in isolation until Thursday, when he was allowed to have visitors, said Mikhail Klyuzhev, a National Bolshevik Party member. "It's all part of the hysteria before the elections," he added. Russia held parliamentary elections on 2 December.

His case is the latest example of journalists or opposition activists being involuntarily committed to psychiatric hospitals. During the Soviet era, dissidents were often committed as punishment for protesting against Soviet policies.

Larisa Arap, an Other Russia activist and journalist, spent six weeks in a psychiatric clinic in the summer; supporters said it was punishment for critical reporting. The Global Initiative on Psychiatry, a Dutch group, says psychiatry is still used for punitive, political purposes in Russia.