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, and “extolling the Western way of life.” A Kaluga court sentenced him to compulsory treatment in a mental hospital for an indefinite period. Mr. Rozhdestvov was previously interned in 1970, when, as the chief engineer of a building combine, he wrote an appeal calling for the democratization of the Soviet system.

On October 6 Mr. Mikhail Kukobaka, a forty-one-year-old worker and a longstanding dissenter, was forcibly interned in a mental hospital in the Belorussian town of Mogilev, and given compulsory drug treatment. A few months earlier he had circulated an essay of his, “Détente and the Defense of Human Rights are indivisible,” a copy of which has reached the West. But the head of his ward, Dr. Nadezhda Drapkina, explained his internment by referring to how he had decorated his room: “To put up an icon and photographs of people like Academician Sakharov and General Grigorenko goes against our generally accepted norms of behavior and therefore indicates mental deviance.”

The mental deviation of Mr. Vladimir Klebanov, forty-five, was to organize a Moscow press conference to publicize documents from workers protesting low pay, bad conditions, official corruption, and the persecution of those who spoke up against such abuses. Klebanov himself, a miner from the Don basin, had spent four years in mental hospitals for protesting about the lack of safety measures in his mine and the high death rate that resulted. On December 20, three weeks after his press conference, he was forcibly interned in a Moscow mental hospital, held for a week, and then, after his internment had been publicized in the Western press, released.

Other new cases reported by the Working Commission include those of Mr. Yury Vivtash, interned in Dnepropetrovsk, and Miss Galina Kukarskikh and Mr. Vladimir Veretennikov, both held in Leningrad.

Among dissenters interned for some years the commission singles out Mr. Mikhail Zhikharev, fifty, an electrical engineer from Sochi on the Black Sea. He first clashed with the authorities in 1963 when he supported his workers’ wage demands. In 1974 he was arrested for writing a satirical novel, and put in the Chernyakhovsk prison psychiatric hospital. This September he was transferred to a mental hospital in Krasnodar. Here, according to an appeal by his mother to the WPA monitoring committee, “He is being forcibly subjected to drug treatment.” The mother continues: “I ask the committee to investigate my son’s case and to do everything possible to free him.” She adds: “My son is healthy, he has never had any mental illness, and he is in no need of any treatment.”


Other long-term internees singled out by the commission are Dr. Nikolai Plakhotnyuk, Mr. Nikolai Baranov, Mr. Boris Evdokimov, and Mr. Kim Davletov, all held in the Kazan prison psychiatric hospital, and Mr. Vyacheslav Mirkushev and Mr. Iosif Terelya in the similar institution in Dnepropetrovsk.

Currently under threat of internment in such hospitals are Dr. Zviad Gamsakhurdia and Mr. Merab Kostava, leading members of the Georgian “Helsinki monitoring group” arrested in April. According to a senior doctor of Moscow’s Serbsky Institute of Forensic Psychiatry, they were in November undergoing in-patient examination in his institute, to see if they are legally responsible for their alleged political offenses.

Mr. Vladimir Korzh, an ex-diplomat who served in the Soviet consulate in Paris from 1967 to 1970, is similarly threatened. Mr. Korzh was dismissed from the Foreign Ministry in 1975 after he protested against widespread KGB surveillance, and now works in a factory. In December, he told Western journalists in Moscow that the KGB had threatened him with psychiatric internment if he continued to criticize its spying on party and state officials.

The KGB is inhibited by the WPA vote from breaking up the Working Commission by its usual methods. In July it threatened to give Mr. Alexander Podrabinek, the commission’s most active member and the author of the book Punitive Medicine, a sentence of ten years. But to carry out this threat would no longer be expedient. So on November 30 it ordered Mr. Podrabinek to emigrate. However, since he does not wish to emigrate, he refused.

To persuade him to change his views the KGB has begun to employ a tactic it has used against Dr. Sakharov—the persecution of his relatives. In October it planted some bullets on his brother Kirill at his place of work. But it could not then prove that they belonged to him. So four days later KGB men came to search Kirill’s flat. The officer in charge went straight to a cupboard, put his fist into the first jacket he found, and pulled it out again with two cartridges in it.

In an appeal to “world opinion and the US Congress,” describing these episodes, Mr. Kirill Podrabinek describes other recent cases where people were framed and calls for foreign pressure to combat “the clearly criminal methods of the KGB.” But two months later world opinion and the US Congress had still made no response. On December 28, he was arrested.

This Issue

February 23, 1978