In the old Soviet Union, psychiatrists built a secret network of asylums and corrective labor camps to which were sent some ten million citizens deemed to be undesirable and antisocialist. But that was a long time ago and certainly was not part of the new Russia. Or was it? What had become of the few dozen journalists “abusing” free speech or the few thousand malcontents misusing free expression and a half million orphans whose existence was considered completely devoid of value? Psychiatrists of the new Russian Federation were not rebuilding a human disposal system from an old Soviet blueprint—on the contrary, it was the same resident evil that had always been there.
That is what IAS Freedom Medal Winner for 2008, Yury Ershov set out to expose and legislate out of existence.
An assistant prosecutor from Kurgan Oblast and a professor at the Urals State Legal Academy, Yury found Scientology in 1996. He also found his calling when he entered the Ekaterinburg branch of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights and examined a few case histories of psychiatric victims. His course was clear. As both a state prosecutor and one of the most highly trained lawyers in the Urals he would defend his nation’s constitution, while as a Scientologist, he would bring psychiatry under the law for the good of Russia and its
Thus Yury began to investigate and bring psychiatrists to justice. On the Rakevich case, he came face to face with the fact that once a person had been classified as mentally incompetent, under Russian law they had no legal recourse whatsoever. The law specifically prohibited patients from petitioning courts, accessing records or even seeking counsel. Yury took the Rakevich case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Deciding in Yury’s favor, the Court ruled that the law was patently illegal and unconstitutional.
It was immediate news across Russia with headlines proclaiming, “European Court pressured government to change laws in Russia”, “Protection of the rights of citizens” and “Government should protect the rights of patients.”
At that point, Yury decided that he would pursue the course of using the court system to eradicate psychiatric abuses and bring an end to psychiatry’s reign of terror. The Timchenko case concerned a 1978 law that prohibited inmates of psych-run institutions from possessing passports or controlling finances—even if the only reason the person was in one of these institutions was that he was an orphan! And even if he had found employment and was earning enough to rent his own flat. Yury took the case to the Russian Supreme Court and again was victorious, with the Court ordering that the offending laws be excised from the Federation Civil Code. Suddenly half a million outcast orphans were free to live beyond the grip of psychiatry.
With that, Yury determined that the time had come to handle the last derelict leg on which Russian psychiatry stood. He would change the whole psychiatric decision-making process and the laws defining how people were deemed insane. When he began work on the Lobashova case, he instinctively knew that it was the one he would use to accomplish his goal.
It concerned an attorney who had run afoul of a courtroom bailiff, and the psychs had labeled her insane, stripping her of any legal rights under Russian law.
It came to a head in Moscow’s Constitutional Court. As their decisions were permanent and carried immediate legal force, it was the place of last resort. This was where Yury came face to face with “basic-basic” of Russian psychiatry: That those judged insane would remain insane and without legal recourse until psychiatry judged otherwise. Yury wasn’t asking for a reevaluation of his client’s sanity however. He wanted the Court to reexamine the whole psychiatric system as originally authored by the KGB so that they could terminate, obliterate and silence. He was looking for a constitutional review of the whole psychiatric premise by which citizens were deemed incapable, incompetent and otherwise null and void.
When the Court ruled on the case it broke the very foundation of Russian psychiatry:
- Six full clauses prohibiting citizens from defending themselves when judged incompetent were stricken from Criminal Codes.
- An amendment made to stop psychs from condemning citizens in absentia.
- Another three federal statutes either voided or revised to stop psychiatric coercion in courtrooms, asylums and schools.
All combined, with twelve landmark cases and seven fundamental changes in laws, Yury Ershov put an end to an old Soviet system designed to degrade and dispose of unwanted citizens and thereby protected more than 17 million Russians from the political tyranny of Russia’s new psychiatry.
[Image captions: “As a public prosecutor I was encountering cases which showed psychiatrists at work and Soviet terror laws and tactics in direct contravention of the new Russian Constitution. It was something that I was unwilling to tolerate. I had to prove their crimes and bring them to justice.” Yury Ershov
IAS Freedom Medal Winner Yury Ershov changed the whole psychiatric decision-making process and the laws on which people were deemed insane in Russia. Twelve landmark cases and seven fundamental changes in Russian laws now protect more than 17 million citizens from the political tyranny of Russia’s new psychiatry.
Landmark decisions in Russia’s Constitutional Court, the European Court of Human Rights and the Russian Supreme Court broke the very foundation of Russian psychiatry.
IAS FREEDOM MEDAL
When I became a lawyer, I found and read the French Declaration of Independence; a promise of human freedom and dignity created at the time of that nation’s revolution. The document conveyed my purpose as a lawyer, yet I had no ready means to achieve that goal.
With CCHR I saw that something effective could be done. While much has been achieved, there is still much work to do. And doing that work will allow anyone to find out more about himself, to become bigger and see that help to others is possible. I also know that after the release of The Basics it will go faster and I am very glad because of this.]1
- Impact 119, (pp. 34-39). PDF format. ↩