Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Maikel’s case compared with Russian psychiatric repression of political dissidents

I apologize in advance for this statement being incoherent. I have just recovered from a personally stressful situation.

First of all I was thinking about my phone conversation yesterday with my Israeli friend Alon Rosen. Alon was telling me how he had become friendly with Maikel over the past few months. And I reflected on the fact that since Maikel started his hunger strike two months, I have become friendly with his friend and fellow activist Ahmed Montaser. I realized it is no accident that Maikel and his followers are reaching out to the Jews with love and solidarity – that Ahmed was following Maikel’s example in reaching out to Alon by offering me wonderful friendship and support. To me this phenomenon is obvious evidence of Maikel’s goodwill toward Israel and the Jews and of the positive effect of his movement on relations between Egyptian democratic activists and both Israeli and American Jews.

Second of all I am pretty sure that Maikel is finally being force-fed, which is an immense source of relief for me. Why do I think this? Well, his weight apparently rose by four kilos in two days from 40 kilos last Monday to 44 kilos last Wednesday. The only way that a human being could gain so much weight in such a short time – to raise his weight by 4 kilos in 2 days or by 2 kilos a day is if he is being force fed. For American readers his weight rose by 9 pounds from 88 pounds last Monday to 97 pounds last Wednesday.

Thirdly, I am confused and baffled by conflicting reports as to whether Maikel has actually been sent for psychiatric ‘treatment’. One report said yes and one report said no. So I’m not really sure what to believe at this point.

I am appalled and sickened but not surprised when I saw the reports that Maikel was allegedly sent for ‘psychological observation’ last Tuesday. This action was clearly the regime’s retaliation against him for his brave and bold decision to boycott his false ‘re-trial’ last Tuesday, October 18, 2011. He even bravely criticized his own father for apologizing to the regime on his behalf, thus breaking with powerful patriarchal traditions in Egypt and the Arab and Islamic world.

The regime also found a good excuse for persecuting Maikel because he mentioned a threat to commit suicide in one of his letters. But his captors are brutal men who will shrink at nothing to destroy him, and they needed no excuse to persecute him in this horrendous way. Unfortunately, I am quite familiar with the use of psychiatry as a means of persecuting political dissidents. Why? Because sending political dissidents for brutal torture under the guise of ‘psychiatric treatment’ was one of the KGB’s favorite methods of oppressing dissidents in Soviet times. Soviet psychiatrists were notorious for their willingness to participate in the use of psychiatry as a means of repressing political dissent.

Many horrifying abuses occur within ‘psychiatric prisons.’ Political dissidents are commonly diagnosed as ‘oppositional defiant disorder’, though other labels will work just as well. Victims are frequently placed on dangerous psychiatric drugs which are designed to destroy their bodies and minds. For this reason, I think Maikel is right to be concerned about being given dangerous drugs through his IV’s. Victims are also commonly subjected to electric shock treatments and other forms of brutal torture under the guise of ‘psychiatry.’

Two cases which come to my mind immediately were those of General Pyotr Grigorenko and also the biologist Zhores Medvedev. General Grigorenko was an unusual Red Army commander during World War II who openly defied Stalin by marrying a woman who whose whole family had been wiped out by Stalin during political persecutions. Grigorenko was one of only a few officers to survive Stalin’s wholesale slaughter of the best and brightest Soviet military officers – during which 70% of Russian army officers were murdered in the 1930’s.

As a result of his political protests during the Khrushchev years, he was subjected to psychiatric confinement for the first time in 1964-1965. He was also stripped of his medals, ranks, and pensions. In the late 1960’s, he not only protested the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia but also became a passionate and determined advocate for the rights of the Crimean Tartars. The Crimean Tartars were deported from their homeland by Stalin in 1944 and systematically murdered. Even during the rehabilitation of persecuted Soviet minorities under Khrushchev, the Crimean Tartars were not allowed to return to their homeland. Grigorenko attended and led many protests against the persecution of the Crimean Tartars.

In 1969, he was forcibly confined to a psychiatric ward for 5 years after being given the false diagnosis of schizophrenia. He was very obviously being persecuted for his political activism and dissent. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyotr_Grigorenko  A young Ukrainian Jewish psychiatrist, Semyon Gluzman, bravely attested to Grigorenko’s sanity in a 1971 report. As a result, Gluzman was sentenced to 7 years of labor camps and 3 years of Siberian exile in the late 1970’s and early 1980s.

Another famous case was that of the biologist Zhores Medvedev. Zhores and his twin brother Roy Medvedev are the sons of a famous father who died in Stalin’s political persecution. Both brothers are Communist critics of Stalinism. Zhores Medvedev lost his job for condemning the biologist Lysenko, who was widely rejected by Soviet scientists for having attacked Mendelian genetics. In 1968 to 1970, Zhores Medvedev wrote two underground or Samizdat works that were widely read by other dissidents. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhores_Medvedev

In retaliation, Medvedev was forcibly confined in the Kaluga psychiatric hospital in May, 1970. However, an international physics conference was being held in Moscow at the very time that Medvedev was confined. And the late physicist and political dissident Dr. Andrei Sakharov (father of the hydrogen bomb and 1975 Nobel Peace Prize winner) made an announcement at the conference. He told his Russian and Western colleagues that the biologist Zhores Medvedev was being illegally confined in a psychiatric hospital for his political beliefs. He left his name, home address, and phone number on the blackboard and asked his Western and Russian colleagues to contact him. Many Western colleagues did reach out to help support Medvedev, as did a number of leading Russian dissidents including the famous writer Solzhenitsyn and many prominent Russian scientists. In response to this global and internal pressure campaign, Medvedev was released after only several months.

Also it is very important to note that many Soviet political prisoners have survived years of forcible psychiatric confinement and abuse while retaining their mental health. Thus, while we need to urgently demand Maikel’s immediate release from forcible psychiatric confinement, we should also keep in mind that he can survive this horrific form of political persecution. The horror of what Maikel is enduring is very real but I strongly believe he can survive this.

What do we learn from these cases?

1. It is important to counter the fake official ‘diagnosis’ of Maikel if possible with a competent psychiatrist who can prove that Maikel is mentally sane. However, this psychiatrist can also expect to face many years in prison as did Semyon Gluzman for defending Grigorenko in Russia.  For this reason we might not be able to find a psychiatrist brave enough to do this.

2. The most effective way to get Maikel out of jail and psychiatric confinement is to launch a coordinated effort of both Western and Egyptian protestors to support him. With sufficient Western and Egyptian pressure it is possible to get a political dissident released from false psychiatric confinement.

3. It often takes months or years of Western pressure to help a political prisoner like Maikel escape psychiatric confinement. Thus, we should be prepared for a long battle.

4. I am deeply pessimistic about the chances of Maikel being swiftly released. Why? Because it took months to get Zhores Medvedev and 5 years to get Grigorenko out of these ‘psychiatric hospitals.’ And unlike Maikel, these men had significant, prominent, and consistent Western support. Zhores Medvedev also had a lot of support from Russian scientists and writers,

5. In contrast, Egyptian democrats have boycotted Maikel and treated him like a pariah. In addition, the Egyptian army has faced absolutely zero pressure from the West to free Maikel from the start of his imprisonment and subsequent hunger strike. The army is acting with increasingly brazen impunity toward him and escalating its persecution of him and his family because they saw how the West condoned his suffering on hunger strike by remaining silent and refusing to call for his release.

6. In this connection, the Europeans don’t care about Maikel. Their involvement in his case is way too little and way too late. Their participation at this stage of the game is essentially meaningless. They cannot be considered reliable supporters because they didn’t act from the start of his hunger strike to help him. They did nothing on at least two or three previous occasions when his life appeared to be in imminent danger. The EU’s call to Egypt to ‘assist’ Maikel rather than demanding his immediate and unconditional release from all forms of political and psychiatric confinement is a pathetic surrender to the Egyptian army. The EU has proven that they condone his illegal imprisonment and don’t care if he dies in custody, G-d forbid.

7. I am beginning to think the army is keeping Maikel alive because they enjoy torturing him, not because they care about the pathetic non-existent pressure from the West, Egyptian democrats, Arab dissidents, and the human rights groups. It reminds me of the case of Dan, whose story was featured in the Gina O’Connell Higgins’ book Resilient Adults: Overcoming a Cruel Past. Dan was a survivor of horrific child abuse from his father who viciously beat him constantly from ages 3 to 16 and his mother who sexually assaulted him. Dan said on page 44:

“My father didn’t really want me dead. He just wanted me seriously maimed. He got such catharsis out of hitting and abusing me: in a way it was a source of relief and pleasure to him. He wouldn’t have wanted to kill me because he couldn’t then have hit me anymore.”

You can see how the army has left Maikel almost for dead at least twice on his hunger strike – once sending him to a hospital on a coma at the start, then another time waiting until he weighed 88 pounds and was on day 56 of his hunger strike to force-feed him. On a third occasion they told Maikel that they would wait until he was on his deathbed to give him essential medical care. So they also seem to enjoy hurting Maikel and making him suffer almost to the point of death but not quite.

Maikel I salute and admire you for your courage and resistance against the Egyptian army. I am behind you and your family 100%. I support and demand your immediate and unconditional release from prison and psychiatric torture. I will stand behind you no matter how many months or years it takes to release you and how many times you go on hunger strikes to protest your captivity.

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