Amnesty International has condemned a Russian court’s rejection of an appeal by a Yakut shaman against a decision to confine him to a psychiatric clinic as he campaigned to drive President Vladimir Putin from the Kremlin.
In a statement on September 29, the director of Amnesty’s Russian office, Natalya Zvyagina, called Aleksandr Gabyshev, who was detained several times as he attempted to march to Moscow on foot to drive Putin out of the Kremlin, “a symbol of resistance of ordinary people” in Russia against the government’s “pressure that is increasing every day.”
“Forced treatment in a psychiatric clinic is a way of torture and violence. The authorities must stay away from forced treatment and immediately, without any conditions, release Aleksandr Gabyshev, because he was sentenced to forced treatment in a psychiatric facility for an indefinite period of time exclusively for implementing his right to express his views,” Zvyagina said, adding that the Russian authorities “again turned psychiatric assistance into a punitive measure, the method to curb dissent that was well checked and probed in the Soviet period.”
The Amnesty statement came three days after Gabyshev’s lawyer, Aleksei Pryanishnikov, told RFE/RL that his client was transferred from temporary incarceration at a psychiatric clinic in the capital of the Far Eastern region of Yakutia, Yakutsk, to an unknown psychiatric clinic in an undisclosed place.
The decision to confine Gabyshev to psychiatric treatment against his will was made by a court in July after it found Gabyshev “mentally unfit” at a hearing where he was accused of committing a “violent act against a police officer” as he was being forcibly taken from his home to a psychiatric clinic in late January.
The ruling was challenged by Gabyshev’s lawyers and supporters who say it was an attempt to silence dissent.
Police said at the time that the incident between Gabyshev and the law enforcement officer took place on January 27, less than three weeks after the shaman had announced a plan to resume his trek to the Russian capital to drive Putin from power.
Gabyshev’s sister, Kyaiyylana Zakharova, told RFE/RL in April that her brother’s state of health had dramatically deteriorated, most likely due to unspecified injections he received while in the psychiatric clinic.
Gabyshev first made headlines in March 2019, when he called Putin “evil” and announced that he had started a march to Moscow to drive the Russian president from office.
He then walked more than 2,000 kilometers, speaking with hundreds of Russians along the way.
As his notoriety rose, videos of his conversations with people were posted on social media and attracted millions of views.
In July of that year, Gabyshev led a 700-strong rally under the slogan “Russia without Putin” in the city of Chita.
His march was halted when he was detained in the region of Buryatia later in September and placed in a psychiatric clinic in Yakutia for several months against his will.
Shamans have served as healers and diviners in Siberia for centuries. During the Soviet era, the mystics were harshly repressed. But in isolated parts of Siberia, they are now regaining prominence.