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Order for Ukrainian activist to undergo psychiatric assessment is “harassment,” says Amnesty

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 10 November 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6386
  1. Andrew Cole
  1. 1London

A Ukrainian trade union activist has been ordered to undergo a psychiatric examination because of what prosecutors call “an excessive awareness of his own and others’ rights.”

Amnesty International, which has taken up his case, has called on the Ukrainian authorities to halt a process that has nothing to do with mental health. The head of the Ukraine Psychiatric Association has also expressed concern.

Andrei Bondarenko, who is planning to appeal to the country’s supreme court, has no record of mental illness but has been campaigning for the rights of workers in the Vinnytsya region of Ukraine for the past four years.

He founded an organisation called Movement for a Corruption Free Vinnytsya Region Prosecutor’s Office earlier this year and has also worked to defend the rights of seasonal sugar factory workers who are sometimes not paid for their work. He has taken many employers to court in the past two years to demand payment of wages.

Late last month a court in Vinnytsya granted an order for a psychiatric examination after prosecutors argued that Mr Bondarenko had an “excessive awareness of his own and others’ rights and [an] uncontrollable readiness to defend these rights in unrealistic ways.”

Mr Bondarenko has already undergone three outpatient psychiatric assessments to demonstrate his sanity, the most recent of which took place only last month. However, the new assessment is likely to be in hospital, with doctors being given three days to carry out the examination and report back to the court.

Amnesty International says this amounts to harassment. “Any examination should be conducted outside the Vinnytsya region by officially recognised psychiatrists to ensure impartiality,” said Heather McGill, Amnesty International’s expert on Ukraine. “Andrei Bondarenko should not be subjected to any treatment until he has exhausted all legal channels.”

She said that she didn’t know of other incidents of psychiatric abuse in Ukraine but that this case “set off alarm bells because of past misuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union.”

Semyon Gluzman, head of the Ukraine Psychiatric Association, said that although the human rights situation in his country was serious it was not comparable to that in the Soviet Union, where psychiatric detention was used as part of government oppression. He will be writing to Ukraine’s president to protest about the case, he added.

Amnesty International says that a growing number of Ukrainian activists are being harassed. Earlier this year Andrei Fedosov, the chairman of a mental disability rights organisation, Uzer, was assaulted after receiving threatening phone calls. Police took no action. He was later detained for a day in relation to a crime allegedly committed 10 years ago.


Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6386


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