A detailed account of the “physical torture” of Soviet political prisoners “through starvation, cold, and deprivation of sleep” has just been smuggled to the West from a forced-labor camp in the Urals. Its author is the well-known Russian psychiatrist Dr. Anatoly Koryagin. In 1981 Dr. Koryagin was given a twelve-year sentence for documenting the Soviet practice of interning dissenters in mental hospitals and then “curing” them there of their views with powerful drugs. His articles on the subject have been widely published in the world medical and lay press.
Dr. Koryagin, who is forty-four years old, wrote the new document last year, shortly before being transferred for three years from Camp 37 in Perm to the much-feared Chistopol prison in the Tartar republic. Here, according to a recent letter from his wife to the European security conference in Madrid, he is being subjected to continuous threats of physical violence. At the same time, his fourteen-year-old son is being cruelly victimized at school in Kharkov.
Why, one may ask, is Dr. Koryagin being treated with such special brutality? The question is posed by nine of his fellow prisoners, who write—in another smuggled document about his case—that they themselves have resisted the tyranny of the camp authorities with as much determination as he did, yet only he was singled out for transfer to prison.
Part of the answer, they say, lies in the medical help Koryagin gave—even without equipment—to his fellow captives. He helped, for example, the political prisoner M. Arutyunyan, “who had been bestially beaten up by prison officials in Rostov and had then been refused essential medical aid by the camp doctors.”
The nine prisoners—who include Dr. Yuri Orlov, leader of the Moscow “Helsinki monitoring group”—quote the camp doctor G. Chepkasova as saying: “No one’s going to treat you here, and if something should happen to you, the country will be none the poorer.” Only Koryagin helped them, they write, “thereby fulfilling his duty as a doctor and a human being.”
A still more important answer, Moscow friends believe, is the fact that the KGB are desperately trying to obtain a recantation from the key critics of their policy of political psychiatry, and Koryagin is their number-one target. By piling onto him steadily more physical and moral pressure, they aim first to break him, and then to obtain a false denunciation of his own writings.
This, they hope, would be a trump card in the USSR’s current efforts to ward off the serious danger of expulsion from the World Psychiatric Association next July. To date, nine influential member-societies of the WPA—in Britain, the US, Scandinavia, and continental Europe—have called for Russia to be expelled or suspended from membership. If expulsion takes place, it will be the first time for several decades that the Soviet Union has been removed from an international body.
It is worth noting that the same sort of attempt to extract a recantation has been made—and …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.