Court sends Baikal Region Resident to Psychiatric Hospital for Defending Home

Source: (info), 20/10/10

· The Courts · Baikal Region · Protest Campaigns

A court has ordered that Sergei Pronin, a farmer in the Baikal Region, be confined to a psychiatric hospital. The 51-year-old man, who had never before visited a psychiatrist, has paid dearly for his “litigious proclivities”. Since the 1990s he has been fighting to protect his farmstead from demolition. Human rights defenders have taken up Sergei Pronin’s cause. On 20 October they filed an appeal against the ruling of Sretensky District Court, demanding the release of the farmer from the psychiatric hospital.

Human rights defenders believe that Judge A. Dolgorova of Sretensky District Court violated the law when she ruled that Sergei Pronin was dangerous to himself and others and confined him to a psychiatric hospital. “For more than 50 years of his life Sergei Pronin has not been dangerous to society,” says Vitaly Cherkasov, Director of the Baikal Human Rights Centre. “He had a wife, children, a substantial house, a number of barns and outhouses and a large farming operation. This year his house, barns and outhouses were demolished, and Pronin was charged with attacking court marshals. He was then labelled paranoid. And now he has been hidden away in a psychiatric hospital without justification.”

Aleksei Zotov, legal counsel for Regional Psychiatric Hospital No. 2, partly agrees with Vitaly Cherkasov. Aleksei Zotov explained that the hospital physicians do not understand Sergei Pronin’s status. The court has ordered neither a psychiatric diagnosis, nor any treatment for the patient. And, aside from medical, there can be no other reason for confining a person to a psychiatric hospital. “We do not want to function as a branch of the pre-trial detention centre,” said the lawyer for the Regional Psychiatric Hospital.

The farmer Sergei Pronin is accused of resisting court marshals who came to his home in March 2010 to execute a court order to demolish his house and all the outlying buildings.

Sergei Pronin, together with his wife and two children, lived in the village of Kokui in Sretensky district. The family had a substantial house inherited from his parents, and a well looked-after piece of farmland with a number of barns and outhouses. The farm had about 15 cattle. Farming was the main source of the Pronin family's income.

In 1992, Sretensky District Court ordered that Sergei Pronin and his family be evicted. Local officials wanted his piece of land to construct a high-rise apartment building. A number of other home owners fell under the same eviction order. At first, people were indignant and tried to defend their rights, but soon they gave up and moved into the apartments allocated for them. Sergei Pronin and his family were also offered an alternative residence. However, the officials did not take into consideration that Sergei Pronin would not be able to house all of his livestock and farm machinery on the balcony of his new apartment. For almost twenty years Sergei Pronin fought in the courts for his right to live in the house left him by his parents. One day in March of this year court marshals knocked at his door demanding his eviction.

Sergei Pronin did not let these uninvited guests into his home, and bolted all the doors. The farmer explained that he refused to obey the court order since he had not been provided with an alternative place where he could continue farming. The court marshals tried to enter the yard. Incensed by their actions, Sergei Pronin armed himself with a crowbar and a bottle of sulphuric acid. According to Sergei Pronin, he had no intention to harm anyone, he only wished to scare away the court marshals and defend his home.

However, Sergei Pronin was charged under Article 296, Part 4 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“A threat or violent acts in relation to a court marshal with the use of force that may endanger life or health”). Punishment under this Article may be up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Sergei Pronin was arrested and ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation. The doctors of the Regional Psychiatric Hospital No. 2 certified that this farmer, who had been under stress as a result of many years of litigation, had developed “signs of chronic psychological disorder in the form of a paranoid personality dysfunction.” According to the physicians, Sergei Pronin “needed, in addition to treatment for his psychological disorders, correctional education designed to strengthen acceptable social norms of behaviour and to correct his worldview.”

In May of this year, Sergei Pronin was released from pre-trial detention on condition of travel restrictions.

In October, Sergei Pronin travelled to Chita and visited the Baikal Human Rights Centre. He explained that he was willing to be sentenced on criminal charges but could not agree with any psychiatric diagnosis. “I have been working hard on my farm for so many years. I did not ask a penny from the government. And now the means of making a living are being taken away from my family. With this kind of diagnosis I will not be allowed to operate agricultural machinery,” Sergei Pronin explained.

The human rights defenders resolved that in this situation the accused has the right to an independent psychiatric examination. The lawyers began to search for a source of suitable psychiatric expertise outside Baikal Region. However, on returning from Chita to his native village, the farmer was taken to court by force. The court deemed this seeker after justice dangerous to society, and ordered his confinement in a psychiatric hospital.