Amnesty International has described the decision by a Moscow court to send a protester to face forcible treatment in a psychiatric institution as an abhorrent return to Soviet-era practices designed to silence dissent.
Mikhail Kosenko was arrested after he took part in a protest in Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square in May last year, a gathering which turned violent. He was charged with taking part in a riot and using violence against police officers.
The psychiatric detention was requested by the prosecuting authorities, which argued that he presented a danger to himself or society, a claim based on a medical opinion requested by the prosecution and the prosecution’s claim that the criminal allegations against him had been proven. The court’s decision means Kosenko may be deprived of his freedom indefinitely. He would not qualify for any amnesty which his co-defendants in the so-called “Bolotnaya case” might be granted.
Amnesty attended court hearings on Kosenko’s case and believes the prosecution failed to prove his guilt. Moreover, evidence – including video footage and the testimonies of eyewitnesses – overwhelmingly exculpates him of the charges he faced. Amnesty has also expressed concern about the use of police officials as the main witnesses, and pointed to contested elements in the testimonies presented to the court.
Mikhail Kosenko has a history of mental illness, but has never in the past required forcible treatment, nor was he ever deemed to pose a danger to himself or society. Today’s decision was announced as dozens of people gathered in a peaceful protest outside the court, shouting Kosenko’s name and “Freedom”. Reportedly, at least eight people have been arbitrarily arrested at the protest.
Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Director John Dalhuisen said: “To forcibly incarcerate Mikhail Kosenko in a psychiatric unit smacks of the worst excesses of the now defunct Soviet era, when dissidents were languishing in mental institutions, treated as mental patients only because they dared to speak their mind.
“Mikhail Kosenko is a prisoner of conscience put behind bars for peacefully exercising his right to protest and should be released immediately.
“Involuntary psychiatric treatment should only be used in cases of severe mental illness when it is likely that that person will cause immediate or imminent harm to themselves of others. This is not the case with Mikhail Kosenko. He is set to be forcibly hospitalised after the judge refused to allow an independent examination of the state of his health. This is a breach of fair trial procedure.
“This is an appallingly unfair conviction and an ominously cruel punishment of a peaceful protester. With most other co-defendants still on trial or under investigation, one wonders how much further this travesty of justice can go.”