Despite last August’s vote of condemnation by the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), the KGB and certain Soviet psychiatrists are continuing to intern dissenters in mental hospitals. Appeals to the WPA for help in resisting this practice have recently been reaching the West.
Observers in Russia believe that by continuing the internments the KGB may be testing the WPA’s resolve. The world body is currently setting up a committee to monitor such abuses and recommend measures for combating them. Its membership has yet to be announced, but the Royal College of Psychiatrists has already contributed to its budget. The WPA executive committee is expected to issue a statement about the committee’s composition soon.
Inside the Soviet Union the opposition is being led by the Working Commission to Investigate the Use of Psychiatry for Political Purposes. This group was formed a year ago as an adjunct to Dr. Yury Orlov’s Helsinki monitoring group. It welcomed the stand taken by the WPA in August, and in November it appealed to the world organization to exert enough pressure on Moscow to bring abuses to an end: “We call on the WPA not to stop at the passing of resolutions but to exert every effort to ensure that they are implemented.” The commission listed five new cases and also some of the “dozens” of dissenters who have now been held in mental hospitals for several years. It describes other recent cases in its Information Bulletin no. 3, which has just reached the West. Further internments have been reported by other reliable sources.
In early November Mr. Anatoly Ponomaryov, a forty-four-year-old engineer, was forcibly interned in Leningrad’s mental hospital no. 3. He was first put in a hospital in 1971 for circulating critical typescripts, or samizdat. After his release he could not obtain a job, and when he applied to emigrate he was reinterned. This time he became the patient of Dr. Marina Voikhanskaya, the well-known psychiatrist who has since emigrated to London. She quickly saw that he was not mentally ill and managed to have him discharged. But after she left Russia he was once again interned.
When visited by Dr. Voikhanskaya’s mother last March Ponomaryov was being forcibly injected with debilitating drugs. In tears, he told her: “I won’t survive much more of this. It’s too terrible.” But in August Austrian psychiatrists visiting the Soviet Union asked to examine him. To have a pretext to refuse this request, the authorities suddenly ruled that he was cured, and freed him—but only until the Austrians had safely departed.
In September a forty-year-old civil engineer, Mr. Vladimir Rozhdestvov, was arrested and placed in the same mental hospital in Kaluga in which Dr. Zhores Medvedev, the biologist now living in London, was interned in 1970. One of his psychiatrists was Dr. Galina Bondareva, who also examined Dr. Medvedev. At Rozhdestvov’s trial in November he was charged with listening to foreign broadcasts, agitating about the low wages of workers …