March 17, 2017

March 24, 1987

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Thirty years ago, on March 24, 1987, Drs. Harold Visotsky and Friedrich Weinberger, co-founders of the International Association on Political Use of Psychiatry, discussed the abuse of psychiatry with members of the Soviet delegation to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The meeting in Vienna was a continuation of reviewing compliance with the 1975 Helsinki Accords.

Dr. Visotsky, in a statement released at the meeting, said: “We call upon General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to end this abhorrent practice in the USSR and to have an independent investigation of all cases of psychiatric patients who have been interned because of political implications. The people we know are people who had an advocate, an alarm bell. …There must be many people who had nobody to pull the alarm bell.”

Soviet dissident and 1987 Nobel Peace Prize nominee Anatoly Koryagin, who was imprisoned in 1981 for his outspoken investigation of the use of psychiatry for political purposes in the Soviet Union, was targeted by the regime.  He was a leader of the Working Commission to Investigate the Use of Psychiatry for Political Purposes. His report documented 16 special psychiatric hospitals in the Soviet Union where 183 dissidents were consigned and punished with psychoactive drugs for their political views. Dr. Visotsky noted that there were nearly 300 documented cases of Soviet citizens being placed in mental hospitals because of their political views, although he believed the number was closer to 1,500 to 2,000 cases.

Dr. Koryagin was arrested after the publication of his study that showed mentally fit people were being admitted to Soviet psychiatric hospitals because of their political beliefs. The Moscow Helsinki Group in 1981 issued document No. 162, “The Arrest of Anatoly Koryagin,” stating: “The arrest of Koryagin puts a definite end to the humane and legal activity of the Working Commission to Investigate the Use of Psychiatry for Political Purposes, and gives rise to the fear that the authorities intend to increase their use of psychiatric persecution for political reasons.”

Following a decree of the Supreme Soviet, Dr. Koryagin was released from a labor camp after serving six years of a 12-year sentence (seven years hard labor and five years of internal exile). Dr. Koryagin, who was 48 at the time of his release in February 1987, described Soviet society as “deeply anti-human” and said that he wanted to emigrate but would not do so without his son. His departure from the Soviet Union was a condition of his release from prison.

Dr. Koryagin’s son, Ivan, was arrested in 1985 after a fight in Kharkiv where he was sentenced to three years for “hooliganism.” Dr. Koryagin said his son was arrested to blackmail the father into silence. His son was released on March 26, 1987. Robert van Voren, spokesperson for the Amsterdam-based Bukovsky Foundation, which was coordinating an exit visa for the Koryagin family to emigrate to Switzerland, said, “I’m pretty sure the release of Ivan corresponded with a decision by authorities to let the family go [abroad].” Mr. van Voren later wrote a book about the experience, “Koryagin: A Man Struggling for Human Dignity.”

The American Psychiatric Association on March 26, 1987, called on the Soviet Union to stop incarcerating dissidents in mental hospitals. Dr. Visotsky was chairman of the APA Council on International Affairs, and Dr. Weinberger was APA spokesperson.

Dr. Koryagin and his family emigrated to Switzerland on April 24, 1987. He briefly returned to Russia where he lived in Pereyaslavl-Zalessky in 1995, but now he resides in Switzerland.

Source: “Psychiatric association urges USSR: stop political use of psychiatry,” The Ukrainian Weekly, April 5, 1987.

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