A Russian court has sentenced a political activist to indefinite detention and compulsory psychiatric treatment for charges related to the 2012 riots that marked the second presidential inauguration of Vladimir Putin. Rights advocates are now condemning the harsh ruling as a power move that recalls the Soviet era’s blatant abuse of psychiatry.
Thirty-eight-year-old Mikhail Kosenko was one of two dozen people jailed for rioting during the protest in Moscow last May, when President Putin commenced yet another six-year term as the nation’s leader. Following his arrest, Kosenko spent 16 months in pre-trial detention under accusations of assaulting a police officer — a crime denied by Kosenko as well as the testifying police officer himself, who reportedly did not recognize the detained dissident. Still, the gavel came down in favor of the state.
"The court has come to the conclusion that at the time the action was committed by Kosenko... he was in a state of insanity," Judge Ludmila Moskalenko told the caged defendant, who responded with silence.
Although Kosenko had undergone outpatient psychiatric care prior to his detention in 2012, rights activists are accusing the state of using the judiciary and healthcare system as means of undoing opposition. During the deliberations, the street outside the courthouse was animated with vociferous protesters likening the situation to the legal climate of the Soviet era, when dissidents were frequently jailed on spurious charges related to mental health. According to Reuters, the protesters’ cries repeatedly drowned out Judge Moskalenko’s reading of her verdict. Nine activists were later detained.
"This is a clear case of a return to punitive psychiatry in Russia," said Alexander Podrabinek, a reporter and human rights activist who published a book on punitive medicine in 1980. “This is the first such clear and obvious instance in the post-Soviet period."
While Kosenko had been taking medication for trauma sustained during military service, he had no history of violence and no prior arrests. Right activists also pointed to surveillance footage showing Kosenko confined to the sidelines during the clash between demonstrators and police. In their opinion, the purported violence was greatly exaggerated by authorities and the prosecution.
"The most valued thing in the country is freedom," Kosenko wrote in a piece published Tuesday in the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. “Demonstrators took to the streets in protest of unfair elections... The authorities are against fair and just elections because then they would be no more."