The 23-year-old head of a controversial Russian drug clinic has been sentenced to 3.5 years in jail for abducting addicts and forcing them into rehabilitation.
The foundation City Without Narcotics takes an aggressive stance towards substance abuse. The deputy head of the organization, Evgeny Malenkin, told RT their actions are justified.
“Is it wrong to rescue a drowning person by pulling their hair? If people say it is cruel and inhumane, let them teach us how to do it otherwise. We work 24/7 to help these people. When the state is not doing anything, we are left to take the initiative.”
Despite the foundation’s leaders insisting their aim is to help people overcome their dependence, critics say their methods are dubious at best.
Based in the Urals’ biggest city Ekaterinburg, the organization also has a branch in the neighboring city Nizhniy Tagil, where the clinic’s head Egor Bychkov was arrested in March 2009. He was charged with kidnapping, illegal detention and torture. Prosecutors said that is how addicts under his supervision were treated. Bychkov claims the case was instigated by the drug mafia.
A district court agreed with the prosecutors’ arguments. On Tuesday, Bychkov was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison on four counts of kidnapping and one count of illegal imprisonment. Prosecutors had demanded a much harsher punishment of 12 years in jail. His lawyer has said that they will challenge the sentence in a higher court. Bychkov’s colleagues claim that trial was unfair.
“This chap, Egor, carried out over 200 operations against drug dealers. As a result, the mortality rate has halved. The gypsies are afraid to sell drugs, and, consequently, do not bribe the authorities. Clearly the authorities there did not like that,” said founder of City Without Narcotics Evgeny Roizman.
According to retired police colonel and former Interpol officer Sergey Avdienko, the foundation’s actions are illegal.
”In my career as a drug enforcement officer at different levels, in the city police, in the general department of drug control in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, in the past we were also working closely with public organizations involved in the treatment of drug addicts and we were using information,” he said. “To my understanding, it is strictly forbidden for public organizations to react according to this information.”
Avdienko added, “Even among the law enforcement agencies in the country, federal and regional level, not all of them are allowed to carry out detention and operational activities, according to the law.”
The case and the court ruling have caused a public outcry.
“I sincerely believe, that the trial and the verdict against Egor Bychkov is the most dangerous and frightening event in Russia,” said livejournal blogger foxy_nyc. “It is not only a man who has been convicted. It is a man who was really trying to change something in this life, to make life better.”
City Without Narcotics is a non-government organization, which has been tackling drug abuse since 1999. Its founder, Evgeny Roizman, is an ex-member of parliament. In addition to rehabilitating drug addicts, the organization also helps law enforcers by collecting and analyzing information about suspected drug dealers. However their nationalistic paramilitary rhetoric (Roizman refers to his foundation’s actions as a crusade against invaders armed with drugs) and the alleged mass abuse of their patients draw much criticism.
Public anger has prompted the Russian President to respond.
He's urged prosecutors to pay more attention to communities fighting to rid their towns of drugs.
Dmitry Medvedev met with musicians campaigning for human rights, who told him the law needs to back those trying to do the right thing.
“It is impossible that the guy [Egor] will be in prison, he’s done nothing wrong,” said the prominent Russian musician Vladimir Shakhrin, the leader of Chaif band.
“You said this – I heard you. I’m asking that more attention be paid to what is going on there. Unbiased. Without interfering in the trial in order to avoid conflict with the law. Anyway, if the situation is like you’re saying – it needs attention,” acknowledged the President.
Evgeny Bryun, the head of the Moscow Centre for the Study of Drug Addiction, says from a medical point of view, the members of 'City Without Narcotics' used techniques that do not work.
“I think the tragedy for this foundation and its rehabilitation centers is the absence of effective laws, which determine the roles of everyone involved. What should be the relationship between an addict and society? It's not clear. I don't think the foundation used any medical methods at all. They just held all those addicts and didn't let them go. Their idea was that an addict should go through suffering and that this pain would prevent them from using drugs in the future. But it doesn't work. Addicts forget about the pain. All they remember are the minutes of bliss and all they want is to go back to that state. From a medical point of view it's not effective to hold them. The methods should be complex. The practice they used doesn't correspond to any known methods so I'm against the way they did it. But at the same time I cannot say anything against their leader Egor, I think his motives were clear.”