updated 12/14/2007 5:10:13 PM ET 2007-12-14T22:10:13

A Russian opposition activist was committed to a psychiatric hospital before government protests, supporters said Friday — the latest in a series of incidents suggesting a punitive Soviet-era practice is being revived.

Artem Basyrov, 20, was detained by two plainclothes officers and ordered held in a hospital in the central region of Mari El on Nov. 23, a day before a planned demonstration, said Alexander Averin, of the opposition National Bolshevik Party.

The party is part of the Other Russia coalition, which organized the so-called "Dissenters Marches" around Russia. Basyrov had run for the local legislature as an Other Russia candidate.

A local psychiatric board agreed with police, who alleged that said Basyrov had assaulted a girl, and concluded he was suffering from some mental illness. Basyrov was finally transferred from an isolation ward and allowed to have visitors on Thursday, said Mikhail Klyuzhev, a National Bolshevik member from the city of Yoshkar-Ola.

Basyrov was still being held in the hospital Friday.

Klyuzhev called the allegations "idiocy."

"It's all part of the hysteria before the elections," he said. Russia held its parliamentary vote Dec. 2, and will hold its presidential contest in March.

Commitments frequent
Prosecutors and other officials in Mari El could not be immediately reached for comment.

Supporters said Basyrov did not appear to have been mistreated. Another psychiatric board was slated to review Basyrov's case at the end of the month, Klyuzhev said.

His case is the latest example of journalists or opposition activists being involuntarily committed to psychiatric hospitals. During the Soviet era, dissidents were frequently committed as punishment for protesting Soviet policies.

Last week, Reporters Without Borders said Andrei Novikov, a reporter for a news service connected with Chechen separatist government, had been released after nine months in a psychiatric hospital.

This summer, Larisa Arap, an Other Russia activist and journalist, spent six weeks in a psychiatric clinic; supporters said it was punishment for her critical reporting.

The Global Initiative on Psychiatry, a Dutch watchdog group, says psychiatry continues to be used for punitive, political purposes in Russia.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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