A defiant appeal to world psychiatrists has recently been smuggled to the West from a Russian labor camp in the Urals. The author, Dr. Anatoly Koryagin, is a Soviet psychiatrist who was given a twelve-year sentence last June for opposing the use of political psychiatry to lock up and torture dissidents. His analysis of the practice was published in April in Western medical journals. Now he calls for an international campaign.
Doctors have in fact taken an increasingly firm stand on the issue, notably in France, Britain, Canada, the US, Australia, and Switzerland. In June, for example, the matter was repeatedly raised at a world psychiatric congress in Sweden, where a campaign for Dr. Koryagin’s release was launched by the recently formed International Association on Political Use of Psychiatry. In July the British Medical Association passed a resolution strongly condemning the USSR, which was then unanimously endorsed by the World Medical Association. And a growing current of opinion in the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) holds that as the Soviets have ignored the association’s 1977 demand that they “renounce and expunge” the practice of political psychiatry, the only hope of achieving this end now lies in expelling them. This, the argument goes, would set a very unwelcome precedent for the Russians and force them at last into radical reforms.
On November 20 Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists set an example by voting to call on the WPA to expel the Soviet Union until such time as it “can show that the political abuse of psychiatry has been brought to an end.”
In his courageous appeal Dr. Koryagin, who is forty-three years old, firmly endorses this line. He also pays tribute to the Moscow “Working Commission,” which documented several hundred cases over four years, and for which he served as chief psychiatric consultant.
Here is the text in full:
I am writing to you from Soviet political labor camp no. 37, where the authorities have incarcerated me on the basis of a perfectly absurd, stereotyped charge of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.
As I did not at all have the intentions which the court arbitrarily attributed to me, I can only regard the judgment as an act of revenge against a specialist who has fulfilled his doctor’s duty by obeying the voice of conscience and not subordinating it to the purposes of the KGB. It is only because I examined some dissidents who had been persecuted through psychiatric means, and because I communicated the results of my investigations to the world community, that I was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment followed by five years of exile in a remote area.
Earlier, all the members of the Working Commission to Investigate the Use of Psychiatry for Political Purposes had also been sentenced.
Dear friends, let there be no doubt about the fact that the Soviet authorities have turned our most humane branch of medicine into an instrument for achieving a main aim of their internal policy—the suppression of dissent in…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.