The Independent Reports:
Larisa Arap has just emerged from a 46-day imprisonment in two Russian psychiatric hospitals. Pills were forced down her throat and she received injection after injection. She doesn't know what medications they were, or whether they will cause permanent damage.
"I don't feel very well, but I have a fighting spirit," Mrs Arap said yesterday, adding that sometimes she was so drugged she could barely walk or speak
She was forcibly interned, not for health reasons, but over her association with the opposition group led by former chess star Garry Kasparov, the United Civil Front. Her arrest stemmed from the publication of an article entitled "Madhouse," exposing the ghoulish practices of a Russian psychiatric hospital in the Murmansk edition of his organisation's newspaper, Dissenters' March.
She was interned in the very hospital she had written about. "We're ready to take this to court, although the medics have made it clear that we'll lose," she said.
Russian activists say her ordeal confirms what they've argued for years: punitive psychiatry did not end with the Soviet Union. Now, critics suggest, if someone has a grudge - a husband, a business partner, even a psychiatrist - it isn't difficult to get them confined to a padded room.
In recent years, Mrs Arap had been looking after the child of her daughter, Taisiya, in her home town of Murmansk, north of the Arctic Circle. Problems first arose in 2003, when she uncovered corruption in her local housing association, as she reported in "Madhouse." She was then attacked in her building, mystery callers threatened to murder her, and finally she was warned by the FSB, the KGB's successor, to keep quiet. She didn't.
Taken to a mental ward, Mrs Arap noted that many of its occupants seemed perfectly sane. "I was surprised that among them were lots of normal people," she wrote in "Madhouse". "But how they [staff] communicated with them: They shouted, they beat them up, they put them on drips, after which people became like zombies, they raped them, carried them off in the night and returned them in the morning, tormented."
One woman was threatened with the removal of organs, Mrs Arap said. Children were told that if they didn't give massages to medics they'd receive electro-shock therapy.
Mrs Arap was freed, but on 5 July, she was restrained at a clinic after stopping for documentation needed to obtain a drivers' license. Her doctor asked if she had written "Madhouse," and when she confirmed, police escorted her to a Murmansk mental hospital. Taisiya said that when she was first arrested, Mrs Arap was beaten, and went on a 5-day hunger strike in protest, consuming nothing but water and smoking cigarettes. It was only on 18 July that a court sanctioned her hospitalisation; until then, she had been detained illegally. Mrs Arap was moved to a hospital near Apatity, 180 miles from Murmansk, "without her agreement or the agreement of her relatives," Taisiya said.
It was "a closed hospital from which people rarely return. ... No positive feelings arise in this hospital. It's a psychological hospital for the difficult, the dangerous, the abandoned." Mrs Arap was eventually released when a commission, initiated by Russia's human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, said there was no reason for her to be hospitalised. She is due in court today to protest her treatment, and the United Civil Front plans to prosecute everyone involved, although a representative admitted the group has little chance of winning. "We were never told anything concrete about why she was locked up," Taisiya said. "The most frightening thing of all is that the law gives a lot of power to psychiatrists and doctors to do what they want."UPDATE: Some malignant little Russophile troll, illiterate and hence unable to read our comment publication rules, has claimed that the world's newspapers have not noticed Arap and that this proves the world doesn't care about her. Just to help him look even more ridiculous, we offer the following additional links from major English language publications around the world. Undoubtedly, there are many in other languages as well.
France – The International Herald Tribune