Ending the REIGN OF ABUSE in Russia
IAS Freedom Medal Winners 2011, AZGAR ISHKILDIN and TATYANA MALCHIKOVA have exposed the horrors of psychiatric abuse in Russia and protected the civil rights of every Russian citizen through legislative reforms
With the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Iron Curtain came sweeping changes in Russia. But behind the facade of the “new Russia” was a legacy of the former state with roots so steeped in Soviet ideology it couldn’t change: Russian psychiatry. Having witnessed the lawlessness and degradation of rights in the field of psychiatry, IAS members Azgar Ishkildin and Tatyana Malchikova decided to take effective action to expose the human rights abuses and bring Russian psychiatry under the law.
A graduate of chemistry, physics and political economics from the Saint Petersburg State Technology University, Azgar worked as an engineer and had long been a journalist in the field of human rights. In 1999, he found Scientology and a year later began volunteering for CCHR. Realizing the best way to educate Russians on psychiatry was to provide them the truth, Azgar set about translating and editing key texts such as The Ultimate Betrayal, The Men Behind Hitler, Dr. Thomas Szaz’s classic book Manufacture of Madness and the full series of IAS-sponsored CCHR booklets. In 2004 he joined CCHR staff and within two years had risen to the post of Executive Director.
Tatyana was born in Samara, a city on the Volga River, and found Scientology in 1999 while studying aircraft construction engineering at the State Aerospace University. After moving to Moscow, she participated in CCHR protest marches, petition signings and handout distributions. By 2005, she was CCHR staff and quickly moved up the ranks to President.
All too aware that psychiatry was still using methods to control people just as it had in times of communism, Azgar and Tatyana set about finding the hidden secrets that lay behind the asylum walls. They began with strategic distribution of psych abuse literature around the asylums, where the chances were higher of finding someone who would step forward and break the silence. That silence was finally broken when a woman named Oksana came to CCHR with a chilling personal tale. While a patient at Moscow Psycho-Neurology Asylum #5, doctors had forced her to undergo sterilization.
CCHR checked and found that the signature on Oksana’s sterilization agreement wasn’t hers. When the prosecutor’s office wouldn’t take the case, CCHR moved higher and provided evidence to the Moscow Ombudsman. He authorized an official inspection and approved CCHR staff to be a part of it. The subsequent investigation would turn up even more victims as Azgar had organized a raid that exposed ten cases of coercive sterilization documented by CCHR in private video interviews with patients.
Using this data, Azgar authored a white paper and sent it to government ombudsmen in all 90 regions of Russia requesting they check for this abuse in their respective zones. After conducting their own investigations the ombudsman’s results were conclusive: forced sterilizations extended well beyond Asylum #5. Officials in the Perm region, for example, uncovered forced sterilizations of 15 asylum women. Several officials and doctors were prosecuted and the head of the Ozersky Asylum was convicted, sentenced and dismissed. Tatyana and CCHR then broke the story on three national television shows, including on the largest station in the nation, Channel One. Forced sterilization exploded in the media with banner headlines exposing this psychiatric atrocity, ending it once and for all.
[Image caption: Behind asylum walls, psychiatric crimes were being hidden; Azgar and Tatyana set out to find someone who would make them known. Finally, a woman came forward with a chilling personal tale about forced sterilization.]
[Image caption: Tatyana and CCHR broke the story of forced sterilization in asylums on three national television shows, with banner headlines in the Moscow Times, Novaya Gazeta and in regional press across the nation. As part of an official investigation, CCHR uncovered ten cases of coercive sterilization in Moscow Psycho Neurology Asylum #5.]
[Image caption: Azgar and Tatyana set out to expose the horror of psychiatric abuse and not only derailed the “new” brand of psychiatry in Russia, but through legislative reforms protected the civil rights of every Russian citizen.]
Forced sterilization was, however, only one atrocity under the catalog of horrors known in Russia as “punitive psychiatry.” Here was a whole suppressive machine enabling psychiatrists to cause anyone to be involuntarily committed, declared incompetent and denied all their rights under law. While punitive psychiatry had long been used to sweep dissidents off the streets and silence them with “treatment”, those seeking to misappropriate property from a family member or relative found punitive psychiatry a willing bedfellow. Victims were summarily labeled and committed by psychiatrists, thereby losing their rights so that those holding “guardianship” could feast on their estate.
As a first decisive step to end punitive psychiatry, CCHR organized traveling Industry of Death exhibits in key cities and locations across Russia. Tatyana toured hundreds of the country’s opinion leaders through the exhibit, including representatives from the Federal Parliament. With the CCHR exhibits fueling a continuous stream of negative media on psychiatry—over 30 TV and radio shows and 100 print and Internet articles—public opinion on psychiatry began to turn against it. This set the stage for Azgar’s next mission: drafting new statutes to guarantee fair hearings and to bring psychiatric commitment procedures under the law. These statutes were designed to guarantee basic rights to involuntarily committed patients, such as the right to an attorney, the right to defend oneself and the right to an appeal. They were forwarded to members of parliament, the Ministry of Justice and to the Kremlin.
Azgar and Tatyana next took the message against punitive psychiatry to the Russian people through nonstop media exposure. With every media article generating still more momentum on 6 April 2011, the bill giving rights to involuntarily committed patients was signed into law by the President of Russia—thereby abolishing Cold War punitive psychiatry forever.
[Image caption: Through constant traveling exhibitions, CCHR documentary distribution and TV and radio shows, Azgar, Tatyana and the CCHR team changed the public perception of psychiatry in Russia.]
But with CCHR exposing one abuse after another and the psychs losing ground at every turn, Russian psychiatry had to reinvent itself to stay alive. Working closely with foreign psycho-pharmaceutical companies, psychiatrists hatched a plan, dubbed the “Psychiatric Reformation.” The main scheme was to empty 750,000 patients out of asylums and back into society—with one catch: psychiatrists would continue to drug them in outpatient community care centers with Western psycho-pharmaceutical drugs—pocketing 7.5 billion rubles from public coffers in the process. Azgar and Tatyana met with deputies of the State Duma, briefed them on the dangers of this campaign and sent packages of signed petitions every week to MPs and state officials. Azgar and allied professionals next spoke at a public hearing at the Community Chamber of Russia, held to brief the president on matters of public concern. The transcripts and documents were passed straight to President Medvedev. Not stopping there, they distributed 1,000 information packages with the Making a Killing documentary to key decision makers, the Russian Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) and across the health care system. The news soon broke of federal agents storming the Moscow offices of Western pharmaceutical manufacturers, including Swiss drug-maker Novartis, Israeli Teva and others. Numerous abuses were uncovered including under-the-table bribes to regulators and kickbacks to doctors to generate psychotropic prescriptions. The Russian Government responded by freezing foreign drug prices and stopping direct-to-consumer psycho-pharmaceutical ads on TV and in magazines, thereby wiping out the psychiatric “reformation” before it had even begun.
Having set out to expose the horror of psychiatric abuse, Azgar and Tatyana derailed the “new” brand of psychiatry, and protected the civil rights of every Russian citizen.1
- Impact 129 (pp. 32-39). PDF format. ↩