MOSCOW — Some time in the coming month, Russian poet Yulia Privedyonnaya may be packed off to a psychiatric ward in a case activists described Thursday as a dangerous throwback to the Soviet-era practice of punitive psychiatry.
Rights defenders see Privedyonnaya's plight as yet another worrying sign that Russian authorities are ready to revive Soviet-style psychiatric treatment of dissidents. In recent years, a number of anti-government activists and independent reporters have been forcibly subjected to treatment.
This month, the Supreme Court upheld a ruling that Privedyonnaya should undergo a monthlong psychiatric examination at the Serbsky psychiatric hospital in Moscow, which was used in Soviet times for involuntary treatment of political prisoners.
If she is found to be mentally unsound, Privedyonnaya will be sent for further psychiatric treatment. The alternative is prosecution and possibly a lengthy jail sentence.
Privedyonnaya's case is part of a long-standing effort by authorities to enforce political conformity, said Sergei Kovalyov, a Soviet-era dissident and an adviser on human rights to President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s.
"There are some regimes for whom it is a dangerous thing to be different," he said Thursday.
Privedyonnaya, an ostensibly apolitical activist, says her only crime is sticking out from the crowd.
"In schools in Britain and Germany they give lessons on how to be happy," she said. "All attempts to find happiness here end up either behind bars or in a psychiatric ward."
The charges against Privedyonnaya date to 2000, when antiorganized crime officers raided the Moscow premises of her organization, the Poetical Association for the Elaboration of a Theory of Universal Happiness — or PORTOS in its Russian initials.
Four PORTOS members were arrested on charges of belonging to an armed gang and mistreating children in their care. One member was sentenced to six years in prison, another to eight years, and the other two were deemed mentally unsound.
In May 2008, Privedyonnaya was arrested by law enforcement agents on the same charges as she left her apartment on the outskirts of Moscow. She was held in jail for more than two months.
Privedyonnaya and fellow PORTOS members say they bought firearms legally after receiving threats from criminal gangs seeking to take over their property.
The group claimed investigators threatened the children in their care until they made incriminating statements.
Privedyonnaya's arrest came several years after her alleged offenses. The delay prompted some to speculate that her arrest was orchestrated to give the impression authorities were taking a firm line against organized crime.
Ernst Cherny, a prominent rights activist, said the persecution of PORTOS members may have been part of a campaign to seize their property.
Judging by its literature, PORTOS seems eccentric rather than threatening. Their animal-rearing commune in Ukraine says it has conducted experiments to investigate the effect of playing classical music to livestock, which it claims led to an increase in milk production.