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Russia: Woman detained in psychiatric hospital for promoting 'happiness'

Amnesty International has issued an “urgent action” appeal calling for the release of a Russian activist after she was forcibly detained in a psychiatric hospital in connection with her activities promoting “happiness” in the country.

On 19 February, Yulia Privedennaia, a leading member of an organisation called FAKEL-PORTOS (the Formation of Altruistic Candidates for the Evolution of People - Poeticised Association for the Elaboration of a Theory of All-People's Happiness), was sent to the Moscow Serbskii Institute for a period of at least 30 days on the orders of a Moscow court.

She is on trial before the Moscow Regional Court for her alleged part in the beating of teenage members of the group, for detaining group members at the organisation’s premises and, say the prosecution, for creating an illegal armed group. However, the supposed victims of the alleged beating have withdrawn statements in court, maintaining that the police had pressured them into giving them to incriminate FAKEL-PORTOS’ leaders.

There is a past pattern of official harassment of the group and Amnesty believes Yulia Privedennaia is being detained solely for exercising her rights to free expression and association.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“If this wasn’t so serious, you could almost see the funny side of the Russian authorities detaining someone for promoting ‘happiness’.

“As it is, the forced hospitalisation of Yulia Privedennaia has a sinister, Soviet-era quality. She should be released immediately.”

Yulia Privedennaia has been on a police list of wanted suspects since 2000 when a criminal case against the group's leaders was opened. Although she was never in hiding and was an active member of FAKEL-PORTOS, she was only arrested in May 2008 after she had participated in demonstrations for freedom of expression, against police violence and in support of the political opposition.

In March 2009, at the request of the prosecutor, the Moscow Regional Court ordered that Yulia Privedennaia's mental health be assessed. A state-appointed committee reported to the court on her mental health, concluding that more assessment was needed. It recommended referring her to a psychiatric hospital in Moscow for an in-patient examination. This was accepted by the court and upheld by the Russian Supreme Court last month.

However, a psychiatrist who reviewed the committee's written findings for Amnesty has said:

“The recommendation for a compulsory period of in-patient examination is disproportionate. There are no grounds to suspect a serious disorder or any 'dangerousness' in relation to her psychiatric state."

This supports an earlier conclusion by an independent psychiatrist that the committee's recommendations "are not scientifically supported".

In 2000, four leaders of FAKEL-PORTOS were similarly arrested. They were charged with "organisation of or participation in an illegal armed group", "organisation of a group activity which involves violence or incitement to unlawful actions", "unlawful deprivation of liberty by an organised group" and "causing physical or moral suffering to another by beating or other methods" - the same charges that Yulia Privedennaia is facing. Two of the four were forcibly detained in a psychiatric hospital and two were imprisoned, even though all alleged victims of the crimes withdrew their statements in the court room saying that they had been pressured into making them by the police.

In Yulia Privedennaia’s case, she originally spent 70 days in detention after her arrest in May 2008. Initially, when released, no restraint measure was imposed on her; however, later the court took a written undertaking from her not to leave the place of residence. According to her lawyer, the arrest and detention were carried out with several procedural violations. There have also been several reported violations of the procedure during the trial.

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