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The Real Danger to the Public

20.07.2013    source:
Halya Coynash
70-year-old civic activist, Raisa Radchenko, remains in a psychiatric hospital against her will while the glimmer of hope provided by a statement from the Human Rights Ombudsperson on Thursday is, for the moment, only that

A 70-year-old civic activist remains in a psychiatric hospital against her will with the glimmer of hope provided on Thursday by the Human Rights Ombudsperson not immediately bringing her any closer to release. Valeria Lutkovska stated that a delegation including psychiatrists who examined Raisa Radchenkor on 17 July expressed doubt that forced hospitalization was needed.

Since a court in Zaporizhya on 15 July disregarded the highly questionable nature of the psychiatric assessment, as well as objections from Ms Radchenko, her family and lawyer and ordered her forced psychiatric treatment, more pressure is needed to secure her release, and to ensure that the spectre of punitive psychiatry is laid to rest – hopefully once and for all. 

Amnesty International has issued a second urgent action demanding that 70-year-old Raisa Radchenko be discharged now, in advance of an independent assessment, and for the harassment of her daughter and grandson to stop.  An appeal in Ukrainian was launched on Thursday with the same demands.

Most former Soviet political prisoners, whether held in labour camps or psychiatric hospitals, later spoke of how important it was to know that people in the West were campaigning on their behalf.  Not one or two, many. 

In the light of Thursday’s conviction of Alexei Navalny in Russia and the disturbing way Ukraine has been following Russia’s repressive lead in the last three years, it is surely time for Ukrainians and others concerned to see rule of law in Ukraine to take a more proactive role where there are grounds for fearing that motives are at play that have no place in a democratic society. In the two cases mentioned here, and in others, public scrutiny is vital.

Raisa Radchenko has long campaigned against corruption in the housing and communal services sphere and on other issues.  At the end of May she gave a coherent and compelling interview explaining why she launched a petition for the dismissal of the Mayor of Zaporizhya.  Her activism, as well as the vehement protest from her family and neighbours to her forced hospitalization, aroused concern and considerable media attention well-beyond Zaporizhya, with Amnesty International issuing a first Urgent Action on 16 July. 

The Human Rights Ombudsperson Valeria Lutkovska stated on Thursday that the case had been under her personal control from 12 July.  If so, it is regrettable that nobody from the Secretariat saw the need to examine Raisa Radchenko and then attend the court hearing on 15 July.  Ms Lutkovska has said that she will be attending the appeal hearing however it is not clear when this will be. 

One undoubted benefit of the delegation’s visit was that it identified an attempt by the police to apply pressure on Raisa Radchenko’s daughter, Darya, by inventing an “anonymous report” as pretext for visiting her home, purportedly to see whether her son should be taken away from her.    

While the degree of public concern has probably been instrumental in preventing Raisa Radchenko from simply disappearing into a psychiatric ward, there is precious little else to say that’s positive about this case. 

According to Darya Radchenko, her mother had never had any treatment and the psychiatric opinion confirms that she was at the hospital for the first time.  There are doubts about the motives of those who apparently lodged complaints, and even the opinion which ends with asserting the need for hospitalization describes a person with strong convictions and an adamant rejection of the “treatment” proposed.  Without any brain scan, and with no real clarity as to how they arrived at their conclusion, it is then stated that “that she has a “personality and behaviour disorder – as the result of organic damage to the brain (cerebral arteriosclerosis, hypertonic illness); paranoid syndrome with aggressive actions”. 

Raisa Radchenko’s lawyer has been prevented from seeing her client; Darya Radchenko has also encountered obstruction. This is in a situation where the hospitalization has been challenged and the appeal not yet heard.  Particularly telling was the refusal by the court on 15 July to allow an independent assessment. 

Psychiatric health is a specialized field, and should, ideally, be left to professionals. Unfortunately this requirement makes the scope for abuse great, as we know from Soviet times. Most of us have no access to full information and those who do have the access and authority are by no means always willing to react.  This inevitably creates a dilemma since public attention and “noise” are needed to force the authorities to act yet may prove unfounded.  The risk, however, of saying nothing and hoping that those who have clout will use it, is great.

This time the concerns would seem to have been warranted, and pressure is now needed to ensure that Raisa Radchenko is released and that the harassment of her family stops. This is not only in defence of one elderly woman committed, as she says, to doing her best for coming generations.  The ongoing detention and trial of Dmitry Reva on charges which a prominent legal specialist has dismissed as containing no crime, have demonstrated how the rot spreads in such situations.  Not only have the Security Service, the police, Prosecutor’s Office and courts been guilty of serious infringements, but even the State-controlled UTV-1 has, in the absence of any evidence, been deployed to convince viewers that Reva is a terrorist.  With Raisa Radchenko, the court’s refusal to allow an independent psychiatric assessment suggests that it was aware of failings in the assessment provided to get an elderly civic activist into a psychiatric institution and “treated” with various psychotropic drugs.  Police officers’ behaviour in trying to put pressure on Raisa Radchenko’s family shows similar complicity. 

The Chief Psychiatrist claimed that Raisa Radchenko could pose a danger to others. The real public danger, however, surely lies in the corrupting effect when psychiatry, the courts, the police and even television are deployed to silence dissenting voices and mislead the public. 

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