Activist tells about torture and captivit

October 16, 2007

By David R. Sands - It sounds like a tale from the darkest days of Soviet communism, but Larisa Arap says her forced detention in a Murmansk psychiatric ward ended just two months ago.

The slight Mrs. Arap, a human rights activist and researcher, was detained by Russian military police in the course of a routine medical visit on July 5, less than a month after she collaborated on an article detailing a long list of abuses by local officials using "punitive psychiatry" to deal with political dissidents and local troublemakers, including children.

"In the old Soviet days, we were told if you were unhappy, the theory was there must be something mentally wrong with you," Mrs. Arap noted during a Washington visit late last week. "This time, I was told that psychiatry is a 'closed subject' in our country."

Released Aug. 20 after strong international protests and an intervention by Russia's official human rights watchdog, Mrs. Arap said she still suffers from her 46-day stay in psychiatric wards in Murmansk and Apatity, in Russia's extreme Northwest.

She feels severe back pain, she said. Her memory remains hazy because of the drugs forcibly administered by clinic doctors. Her daughter lost her job as a legal counsel in a bank, an action Mrs. Arap is convinced was linked to her incarceration.

In the interview, conducted through a translator, she described being forcibly stripped and tied to her bed in the psychiatric ward. Clinic doctors injected her with drugs that gave her double vision and caused her tongue to swell. When she went on a hunger strike to protest her treatment, she was force-fed by the hospital staff.

She had no contact with the outside world and knew nothing of the frantic efforts by her husband and daughter to win her release, she said. The United Civic Front, the Russian human rights group where Mrs. Arap worked, tried to publicize her case.

"There was despair for me at times," she said. "The days were very tiresome. We were given no reading material or chances to exercise outside. I was sick and groggy constantly from the drugs."

In one still-mysterious incident during her stay, Mrs. Arap recalled being heavily drugged before bedtime, only to awake in the middle of the night to find a female inmate hitting her and yelling at her. Another patient told Mrs. Arap the inmate had tried to smother her.

"The next day, I was transferred to another facility," she said.

She said her captors repeatedly warned her not to talk about how she was treated advice she pointedly has failed to heed.

Mrs. Arap appeared with Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion and now head of a small but vocal coalition opposing Russian President Vladimir Putin, at a packed Capitol Hill human rights forum last week focusing on Russia. The session marked the one-year anniversary of the slaying of crusading Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was killed two days before she was scheduled to visit Mrs. Arap and other activists in Murmansk.

"I was told by the authorities that if I spoke to reporters, if I went to the United States, they would 'complete the treatment' when I returned home," Mrs. Arap said. "They also told me they would treat my family and colleagues as well."

Despite the threats, she said she was returning to Murmansk this week to resume her work.

"Yes, I will go back. My family and my work are there," she said. "Like any sane person, I know it will not be easy. I perfectly understand there will be reprisals against me and against my family.

"But even if I kept mum, I would still be a sitting duck. If I don't speak up, the society at large will never learn about the things that are happening there."

Octobr 17, 2008 - President Bush Discusses the Visa Waiver Program
Office of the Press Secretary/ White House News

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. (Applause.) Please be seated, thank you. Welcome to the White House. I'm pleased to stand with the representatives of seven countries -- the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and South Korea -- that have met the requirements to be admitted to the United States Visa Waiver Program. Soon the citizens of these nations will be able to travel to the United States for business or tourism without a visa. I congratulate these close friends and allies on this achievement, and I thank you for joining us here.

I also thank Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of the Homeland -- Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff for working hard to make sure this day has finally arrived. Appreciate other members of the administration here and members of the Diplomatic Corps.

The Joint Baltic American National Committee, Inc.
400 Hurley Avenue
Rockville, MD 20850-3121
tel. 301-340-1954
fax: 301-309-1406