29 January 2021
Pictured: Elena Lukyanova, lawyer, winner of the Moscow Helsinki Group Prize, a professor of the Free University, is one of the signatories of the petition defending Aleksandr Gabyshev. Writers, supporters, historians, and other cultural figures have issued an appeal demanding the release of Yakut shaman, Aleksandr Gabyshev.
Free Aleksandr Gabyshev!
Yakut shaman Aleksandr Gabyshev planned to walk to Moscow in 2019 in order to ‘exorcise the dark forces from the Kremlin,’ which he feels are personified by Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Whatever your own opinion, from the point of view of a secular state like Russia and its laws, a citizen who travels through the territory of his country from A to B (in this case from Yakutia to Moscow) is exercising his legal right to freedom of movement, regardless of what he thinks about spirits, the powers that be, Putin, or anybody else.
Meanwhile, in September 2019, Gabyshev was detained at the regional border between Buryatia and Irkutsk. A criminal case was filed against him for allegedly inciting extremist activity (Article 280, Part 1, of the Criminal Code). A psychological and psychiatric examination found Gabyshev to be of unsound mind. After the expiry of his travel ban, he decided to carry on his crusade to Moscow. In December, the shaman and two of his supporters were fined for disobeying the police. In the summer of 2020, Gabyshev was forcibly sent to a psychiatric hospital. This decision was made by the Yakut city court on the basis of the verdict of the psychiatric panel, which had come to the conclusion that Gabyshev represented a danger to himself and to others. In these legal proceedings, the doctors claimed that the shaman was suffering from a ‘personality breakdown.’ However, soon after that, the shaman was discharged from the hospital. The shaman’s campaign became one of the most discussed topics on social media in 2019. People began to post poems on social media on the Runet in honour of Gabyshev. The human rights organisation Amnesty International said Gabyshev was a prisoner of conscience. Doc Theatre have staged a play about Gabyshev.
In early 2021, Aleksandr Gabyshev announced a new campaign against Putin, and on 27 January Znak.com reported Gabyshev ‘was detained by police and taken to a psychiatric hospital. Gabyshev did not open the door to the police, but then they forced it open. Gabyshev’s home was broken into, his things were scattered, there were a lot of red spots on the floor that looked like blood.’
The former mayor of Yakutsk, Sardan Avksentieva, who recently retired, used to stand up for the shaman. Now there’s nobody to stand up for him. Could it be that Putin is afraid of the shaman and believes that his appearance in Moscow can really harm him? Otherwise, why is the ‘blessed’ (as it would be called in the Orthodox religion) Gabyshev detained for long periods and his campaign regarded as ‘extremist activity,’ while he himself is subjected to the kind of punitive psychiatry notorious in Soviet times?
It is pointless to address the shaman’s persecutors, so this letter is an appeal to all who might be able to help ensure Gabyshev’s release and to draw attention to the resumption of the practice of punitive psychiatry, which we consider intolerable.
For the list of signatories, see here
Translated by Graham Jones