A Russian court sentenced an opposition activist to forced psychiatric treatment for an indefinite period Tuesday after finding him guilty of violence during an anti-Putin protest in May last year.
Moscow's Zamoskvoretsky District Court convicted Mikhail Kosenko of attacking a police officer and participating in mass riots, Russian news agencies reported. Kosenko, who is schizophrenic, was found to have behaved "mentally incompetently" and will be confined to an inpatient facility for an indefinite period of time. His lawyer said he would appeal the verdict.
Kosenko was one of several hundred people arrested after a demonstration against Vladimir Putin's return to the Russian presidency turned violent last year. Twenty-six other protesters have been charged under the riots statute, which carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison; two of them have already been convicted, and most of the rest have been in jail for nearly a year and a half. Kosenko was not allowed out to attend his mother's funeral last month.
Opposition activists say the charges are part of an attempt to crackdown on dissent. Amnesty International has recognized Kosenko and two other defendants as prisoners of conscience. During Kosenko's trial, the policeman he was accused of hitting, Alexander Kazmin, said he did not recognize the man who attacked him and did not want Kosenko to be convicted of a crime he did not commit. Prosecutors relied on the testimony of another officer who said he saw Kosenko's hands move in Kazmin's general direction.
Kosenko's sister told Human Rights Watch that he had willingly taken his medication for over a decade and never required any special treatment or hospitalization. After he was arrested last year, however, doctors from Moscow's Serbsky Institute diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia and recommended he be confined for treatment, despite the fact that he had never shown signs of aggression.
During the rule of Leonid Brezhnev, Soviet dissidents such as Nobel laureates Joseph Brodsky and Andrei Sakharov were diagnosed with mental disorders for disagreeing with Communist ideology and forcibly confined to psychiatric institutions.
Several hundred people gathered outside the court to protest the verdict.
"Mikhail held himself together very courageously. Really firmly and decisively. An example for all of us," opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who attended the sentencing, wrote.
"The Kosenko thing's awful, awful. The main point is that nobody's even pretending that 'forced treatment' has anything to do with treatment."
"The Kosenko case is the renaissance of punitive psychology a-la Brezhnev: murderers in white coats have come to the aid of the murderers in epaulettes and judges' robes!"
@tikhondzyadko Дело Косенко-ренессанс карательной психологии аля Брежнев:убийцы в белых халата пришли на помощь убийцам в погонах и мантиях!— Rouslan Gassanov (@Rouslan5) October 8, 2013
Max Seddon is a correspondent for BuzzFeed World based in Berlin. He has reported from Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and across the ex-Soviet Union and Europe. His secure PGP fingerprint is 6642 80FB 4059 E3F7 BEBE 94A5 242A E424 92E0 7B71
Contact Max Seddon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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