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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Arap Speaks

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.

America Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, New York Times

Great BritainThe BBC, The Guardian, The Telegraph

Australia The Age

FranceThe International Herald Tribune

RussiaThe Barents Observer


Anonymous said...

Forgive me for a hasty and under-researched answer - I'm on vacation
now, without files or links. I was following Arap case for semi-
professional reasons (I used to work at the Dept of Psychiatry - but
of course I'm NOT in any way a trained psychiatrist, and I do know a
couple of professionals closely). As an economist would say, the
"stylized facts" of the case, as reported mostly in Lukin statements
and her supporters' blogs, are as follows:

1) The woman has a history of being in mental institution as recently
as 2004.

Which means that by Russian rules, she is still being watched -
"sostoit na uchete" - the common term should be 5 years.

2) Her message IS strange.

She wrote an article about a lot of things, including presumable
problems with psychiatric care of children in Murmanks region. Then
she gave something like an interview to another activist, full of
heart-rendering details, such as under-age girl raped during classes
in an elite school, and mother being sent to a mental facility to
cover up the story. Such stories I (usually) hear from people I'd
designate as "exalted" at least. I NEVER believe stories told in such
manner - of course, there could be some facts in them. Still, the
style of the story tells a lot about troubled soul of the storyteller,
but much less about the facts.

3) No PROFESSIONAL disputes her problems.

Independent comission, headed by Yury Savenko, head of Independent
Association of Psychiatrists of Russia, did not dispute her illness.
Savenko himself said that "there is no politics" involved - at worst,
local medical bosses trying to save face.

4) Hospital stay MAY be to her own good.

The (professional) argument during the first court hearing (that
refused to let her go) was where her state would be better: at home,
if she takes pills prescribed by Savenko's commission (that might be a
big if with some patients, and she apparently had to promise in court
to take them), or at hospital, where the staff can control her intake.

In short, this is a classical case of a professional dispute. As
a son of two medics, I've heard so many stories of those over the
years. Sometimes there's a clear negligence, sometimes it's really
hard to make a call. But it's so easy to go bitching about doctors and
their wicked ways and to assume the worst.

Another problem I have with this story is that the woman's
condition has been broadcast to the whole world for political gain by
the Kasparov gang. No one but her devoted husband would care about
what might happen to her if she lapses on her medication, for example.
Another human life trampled by aspiring politicians.

That's why I personally find it very disturbing that you are
"VERY pleased" with the way Russian press has covered the story. It's
been worse than dancing on the graves - some of them were using a sick
woman to get political traction, but for the majority it was just
another hot gossip to attact readers. Utterly disgusting.

La Russophobe said...

We haven't said anything about being pleased with what the Russian press has done. We despise the Russian press and think they've fallen down on this story just as on every other story they "cover."

Solzhenitsyn's condition was also broadcast. Does that mean he wasn't really persecuted by Stalin?

Don't you make room for the possibility that someone could find your comment "strange""? Does that mean you're fair game for a Russian mental hospital? Ever seen the inside of one?

"Under-researched" is not the term for claiming she's been in mental hospitals before. Without a link to proof, the word is libel.

After review, it was determined that there were no grounds to involuntary commit her, much less medicate her. Nuff said.

If you think her being associated with Kasparov means it ISN'T suspicious, we must disagree. Please find us an example of a NASHI member who's been treated this way. Or is it impossible for a NASHI member to BE mentally ill in your view?

In the end, the only thing that matters is that (a) she criticized the regime and (b) she got sent to the loony bin as if it's "crazy" to do so. That's what happened in the USSR. The world is right to panic when it sees it happen again. In fact, this story has been under-reported, not over-reported.

Anonymous said...

from guzhy:
as for arap's mental condition--- time will tell. she'll do interviews and such and her condition will become clear.
all i can add is a reminder that vladimir bukovsky spent years in soviet psychiatric wards. he too was diagnosed as being unstable, and he's as lucid, sane and intelligent as they come. i'm now reading his memoir, To Build A Castle. The book is a fountain of wisdom, insight and clarity. and again, i repeat, he too was branded as mentally unstable.
history at least indicates arap is probably perfectly normal and was a victim of abuse.

La Russophobe said...


Long time no see! Welcome back! If you are so inclined, we invite you to submit a personal reflection on Anna Politkovskaya, as we are going to collect stories about her for publication on the one-year anniversary of her murder, which is coming up in just over a month.

Penny said...

another opinion - as a psych person, for starters, if Larisa Arap was a Schizophrenic or Bipolar I, she'd most likely have prior psych hospitalizations as they are very disabling diseases, she also would unlikely have had a succesful career as a lucid and functioning journalist.

It's rather suspicious isn't it, that the author of an expose on psychiatric abuse, regardless if she was a comsumer of psych services at some point in the past, was held against her will.

Journalists are getting killed in Russia for their exposes.