Misuse of psychiatry in assessing religious behavior


[no author identified: Roman Lunkin?--tr.]

Religiia i Pravo, 25 December 2018


A court in Omsk sentenced the organizer of the "Regeneration 21st Century of Omsk" religious association, Nikolai Kuznetsov, to a three and a half years suspended prison term, the investigation directorate of the SKR [Investigative Committee of Russia] for the region reports.


N. Kuznetsov was found guilty on the basis of article 239 of the Criminal Code of the RF (creation of a religious or public association whose activity involves violence to citizens or other cause of harm to their health, as well as leadership of such an association) and article 111 of the CCRF (intentional infliction of severe harm to health).


During the debates of the sides, the state prosecutor asked the court to send Kuznetsov to a penal colony of strict regime for six years. The defense sought to remand the case for additional investigation or a verdict of acquittal. In the end, having weighed the pros and cons, the court decided not to deprive the pastor of liberty and it sentenced him to a three years and six months suspended term and an equivalent probationary period.


In the opinion of the chief editor of the Religiia i Pravo magazine, attorney Anatoly Pchelintsev, the decision of the Omsk court can be called a landmark in that it marks a distinctive summation of the struggle for freedom of conscience in Russia. In essence, civil society has already lost this struggle and the court has drawn a line. In our country, prisoners of conscience have appeared, as it was also in the soviet period. In this sense, the prosecution of Jehovah's Witnesses and Pentecostals are links in the same chain. For the rights of those same believers, the recently deceased rights advocate Liudmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva fought back in the 1970s. In 1990, when I worked as an invited expert in the Committee on Youth Policy of the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R., I recall that we received hundreds of letters with the request for rehabilitation of prisoners of conscience, including Jehovah's Witnesses. They were rehabilitated in 1993 as victims of political repressions, and now 26 persons—Jehovah's Witnesses—are in confinement and they again are prisoners of conscience, victims of repression. (In April 2017 the Jehovah's Witnesses were ruled by the Russian Supreme Court to be an extremist organization.)


On 11 December, Russian President Vladimir Putin, at a session of the Council on Human Rights, rightly noted, commenting on the words of Ekaterina Shulman about the inclusions of Jehovah's Witnesses organizations in the list of extremist movement, that "this is some kind of nonsense." However, it should be said that this has already become "nonsense" on a planetary scale. For example, the article regarding hurting religious feelings is absolute nonsense; it is unclear how to measure feelings of atheists and believers.


As Anatoly Pchelintsev emphasized, our officials and personnel of law enforcement agencies often take on the worst of the Soviet Union. The expert analysis in the case of the Omsk pastor may fully be characterized as punitive psychiatry. The names of these poor excuses for psychiatrists will enter into textbooks and become household words. If it can be concluded that harm is caused to the health of citizens merely because of faith in the supernatural, then half of our country suffers such "harm," with Orthodox believers in the lead.


In Russia there is no discernible policy in the sphere of state-confessional relations and no corresponding agency that would conduct the policy. Specialists in government agencies work ineffectively once they encounter a situation where there are prisoners of conscience and punitive psychiatry and there is no doubt that the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights regarding the prosecutions of Jehovah's Witnesses and confiscation of their property will not be in Russia's favor.


In the currently existing situation, law enforcement agencies, including E-centers, thrive, as well as do many psychologically unbalanced anticultists.


In addition, it should be emphasized that nobody stood up for the Omsk pastor. Many people are intimidated and closed-minded or fearful of speaking out lest they be accused of lack of patriotism. Whereas the Omsk case involves everybody, both Christians and Muslims. A change in consciousness and a change in lifestyle is typical conduct for all sincere believers. Members of religious organizations, as a rule, do not fit in with the surrounding society, where promiscuity, drug addiction, and alcoholism dominate. A believing person, by definition, does not behave like everybody, Anatoly Pchelintsev stated.


According to the director of the Center for the Study of Problems of Religion and Society of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Roman Lunkin, the case of the Omsk Pentecostals, a church of a protestant denomination that stresses the manifestation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, recalls many judicial proceedings of the soviet period (soviet atheists also tried to accuse emotional Pentecostals of "insanity"). In the time of the U.S.S.R., authorities were able to declare any active religious society to be an organization whose religious activity caused harm to the health of citizens. In post-soviet Russia, attempts to find churches dangerous have not met with success, even with psychiatric expert analyses regarding the danger of loud, emotional prayers or speaking in unknown tongues. However, in Omsk a proceeding was begun which has already become a tragedy for a small group and can become the occasion for suspicions against other Pentecostal churches and offenses against their religious feelings.


"Exactly at Christmas time, on 24 December, the Omsk court decided to give a present to the pastor of a protestant church—a suspended sentence. This is the second sentence in Russia in a case of causing harm to the psychological health of citizens on the part of Pentecostals. The first decision was in Blagoveshchensk in 2010, when video tapes of sermons by the pastor of the "New Generation" church, Mikhail Darbinian, were banned (at the time the court's decision was not challenged; the church did not want to get it overturned since only a few video disks with recordings were banned). In Blagoveshchensk, uttering the words "Hallelujah" and "Amen" was considered unlicensed "neuro-linguistic programming," although it was possible to find the very same thing in any sermon of a Christian minister. In Omsk, the psychiatric experts simply decided that the Christian church creates some kind of special form of dependence. Which is doubtless true. The lack of inter-Christian solidarity or any articulate reaction of fellow believers to this case and to the verdict itself and the customary coolness with which society takes to restriction of other believers is frightening, Roman Lunkin noted.


The basis for the accusation against the pastor was 13 forensic psychiatric expert analyses regarding 11 victims, some of whom subsequently stated that they do not consider themselves victims. The authors of the expert analyses were Omsk psychiatrists D. Chetverikova and D. Kolomytsev, who came to the conclusion about the possibility of causing severe harm to health also derived from video tapes of services of the church which were somehow provided to the psychiatrists by law enforcement agencies. Then the psychiatrists conducted "inquiries with the suffering" believer. One of the supposed victims, Ekaterina Futrik, filed a complaint with the prosecutor of Omsk oblast in which she noted: "The main argument used in the expert conclusion was that I was pursued by religious super-ideas. But as I understand it, religious super-ideas pursue all believing people, independent of their religious confession. Consequently, it is possible to give such a diagnosis to a devotee of any religion, whether Christian, or Muslim, or Jew. That is, according to the commission's logic, severe harm to health may be caused to any believing person in our country, both a simple worker and the president. I consider that if any moral harm has been caused to me, then it is only the effects of agencies of inquiry, investigation, and also psychiatric commissions, and I have suffered not from a Christian church but from the anger and lack of spirituality of persons charged with conducting the defense and preservation of the dignity of the individual."


The expert psychiatrists D.V. Chetverikov and D.Yu Kolomytsev maintained that E.A. Futrik, as well as other parishioners, suffered "altered states of consciousness" during the conduct of rituals. Psychiatrists, as persons with medical education, did not understand how it is possible to experience "a feeling of divine consolation," "consolation of the Holy Spirit," and receive healing and believe in a "miracle" "performed by God."


The expert analyses of the Omsk psychiatrists are replete with the rather strange casuistry that permits one to suggest that for them any religious activity is "a danger for health." For example, the experts affirm that believers manifest the "formation of nonchemical forms of addictive conduct," that is, it produces a "change of the method of addiction." This is expressed, in particular, in the fact that the free-will choice of members of the church who are drawn by the preaching of the pastor led to a change in a person's lifestyle and rejection of former addictions—alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. (tr. by PDS, posted 8 January 2019)

Background article:

Pentecostal minister convicted on charge of psychological harm
December 25, 2018

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