One of the medical Gulags of psychiatry in Barnaul, Siberia 2002

Interview with Mr. Alexander Eremenko (photo right), who is the advocate of Igor Girich (with the "Irren-Offensive") in his case in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

> 1. How many levels of the legal system should Russian citizens go through before appealing to the ECHR?
Current legislation says the following:
In order to apply to the ECHR, citizens should use all available levels of the Russian legal system. Up till now, these levels were considered to be:

So there were, so to speak, four levels. By "level" I mean here not the level of hierarchy of the courts, but only as the number of instances, because the total number of different courts here is three. Later this practice was changed, and I believe it now fully corresponds to reality and the spirit of the law. Now we only have to apply to the District Court and then to the Court of Cassation. Only these two courts have a duty to consider a case. After these ones, you may appeal to other instances, which can keep silent, and so on.

> 2. In the case of Igor Girich, which actions of the psychiatrists were appealed against?
The most important is the involuntary incarceration with infringement of the law. Additionally, there were numerous violations of the Russian criminal code, civil code and the Russian federal law “About psychiatric help and human rights guarantees" and the “European Convention for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms" (articles 3, 5, 6, 9, 13).

> 3. What were the grounds for this appeal? 
They were based on all the laws mentioned in the previous answer. 

> 4. If the ECHR makes a positive decision in your case, what must the Russian Federation do?
The Russian state will have to compensate you for the harm that had been done due to the illegal actions of the psychiatrists. And this decision automatically means that your incarceration was illegal. Then you will have the grounds to bring a suit (criminal action) against the psychiatrists. But I don't know of any such precedents.

> 5. Have you had any similar cases in your practice? 
I had two or three similar cases but there were no complies (no positive decision for the victims).

> 6. What are the similarities and differences between imprisonment in a psychiatric institution and a prison camp?
The people in a psychiatric institution have much worse conditions and much less human rights guarantees in comparison with a prison camp.

I can give some examples:
First, a sentence in a prison camp is always for a concrete term. When this term is over, a prisoner has to be released exactly on a precise day and anyone who holds a prisoner there longer has a criminal responsibility according to the Russian criminal code. For psychiatric prisoners however, this term is indefinite (and could even mean life-long), and it is determined arbitrarily by people with a special "profession", and no outside control is possible.

It's very difficult to appeal such cases in the court because there is no mechanism for dealing with such cases. If the felony prisoner wants to get an advocate, this mechanism is adjusted enough; in any case an advocate would be informed and in any case he could easily visit the prisoner to give juridical help. In a psychiatric institution, although this right is declared, it is very difficult to realize it. I know for a fact that frequently it is simply denied, and a person just has no possibility to appeal these actions, because he is a prisoner inside these walls. Even if he could inform his advocate, it is not easy to get there, at least there are problems with this. However, if this wish is strong enough, it is possible.

With regard to the prison camps, It is obligatory to permit a determined number of meetings with relatives, a determined number of parcels to be sent, and so on, i.e. it regulates the obligatory contacts, which cannot be prohibited for anyone, even for persons who committed serious crimes. In a psychiatric institution, only the "medical personnel" may decide. And involuntary drugging is not restricted at all. All this is beyond any control of the community. Whereas in each part of the Federation there are some commissions who apply social control of the imprisoned (sometimes they visit the colonies, speak to its inhabitants, etc.), psychiatry is an absolutely closed system.

> 7. Do you share the opinion that psychiatry is now used for political purposes or against dissidents?

Personally, I did not have such cases, so I can't say. What I can say is that now there are enough another means to oppress dissidents and psychiatry is not excluded.

> 8. How could the situation in this field be changed for the better? 

By developing democratic freedoms and institutions.

> Explain what do you mean. 

Using of the Court of Jury...

> Should we use the western model as an example? 
I think it is not ideal. I believe that as long as society's attitude to this question is one of suspicion and full of fear, it will be difficult to change it.

> Is it possible that psychiatry will eventually become useless?

I know that in this field I know nothing. I know that much less is known about the human being and his conscience than of his environment. We absolutely have not investigated ourselves, and instead use clichés: e.g. if someone is different from others because he is gay or if we can't fully understand someone's behavior, then - it's bad, he is ill. As long as it is not seriously investigated and understood, this situation will not change, neither in Russia, nor in the rest of the world. Our current condition is one of complete ignorance as regards the soul and the human conscience. And because our country for a long period had a lack of respect for human rights and there was a lack of equality towards certain social groups, our viewpoint with regard to this question is seriously distorted.

> But is there any possibility of a positive perspective?
In my profession one usually only sees the negative side of the life. I don't see any signs of any changes for the better in the near future or anything that would cause these changes to happen.

I mean not our real conditions, but in principal, how could be this organized?
With the help of control from the community and the necessary publicity. And the question of placing a person in this category ("mentally ill") should be taken out from this closed, inaccessible caste of people who are often no different from their "patients".

> But do we need such sorting of people?
Such a necessity always exists. I have to admit that there is a category of people who have big problems with their sanity. I advocated a man who killed a lot of people, and he was insane. I hardly consider him as a healthy person.

> If he committed crimes, couldn't we consider him as a criminal? 
Yes, I agree, but is he able to realize his responsibility?

> Do we have such a right to decide, whether he is able (or not) to realize it?

We go back to question discussed above. It is unknown to us. But I accept that there are such conditions of human mind when man is at the level of animal's world. I can't say that this is because of illness, maybe it goes from up-bringing, education, environment...

> Don't you deny spiritual reasons?
I don't consider them as the most important ones. The conclusion is usually made from practical situations, and there is no scientific basis for it.