In a grotesque end-run around their own criminal justice system, not to mention human rights, Russian authorities have locked up a prominent political dissident in a mental hospital. It's a tactic of domestic repression that was common in the old Soviet Union, but which the post-Communist regime abandoned—at least until this week.
This type of arbitrary use of mental hospitals as de facto prisons is exactly why advocates for the mentally ill in this country fight so hard against laws that would make it easier to force people into treatment.
Mikhail Kosenko, 38, was one of dozens of opposition activists arrested for taking part in an anti-Putin rally in May of 2012. Several of his colleagues were sentenced to prison. As the Los Angeles Times reports: "Kosenko, who acknowledged suffering from a minor mental illness, was sent to Moscow's Serbsky mental clinic, where he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and found to be a danger to himself and others. The diagnosis was immediately contested by a group of independent psychiatrists." Nonetheless, the judge ordered Kosensko receive "compulsory treatment in a psychiatric asylum of a closed type."
This type of arbitrary use of mental hospitals as de facto prisons is exactly why advocates for the mentally ill in this country fight so hard against laws that would make it easier to force people into treatment. California's "Laura's Law," for instance, mandates outpatient treatment for mentally ill people with a propensity for violence. It was passed by the state legislature in 2002, but has been essentially ignored since, in large part because of pressure from patients' rights advocates.
Those folks have certainly got a point. On the other hand, just in the last few weeks we've seen some horrific results of cases in which people who were known to be mentally ill were not obliged to get any sort of treatment. One of them burned himself to death on the Washington Mall. Another crashed her car into a fence around the White House before being shot dead by police—who thankfully missed her infant daughter in the back seat. And of course, there was the Navy Yard shooter.