The Trial of Alexander Podrabinek, 15 August 1978 (50.7)

<<No. 50 : November 1978>>

This section has been compiled largely from the Information Bulletin of the Working Commission to Investigate the Use of Psychiatry for Political Purposes, Nos. 9 (9 June 1978), 10 (10 August) and 11, a special edition about the trial.[note 1]

Arrest and Investigation

Alexander Podrabinek was arrested at the flat of some friends on 14 May 1978, the day before the beginning of the trial of Yury Orlov. At the time of the arrest a search was also conducted. Podrabinek was taken to the MVD investigation prison on Matrosskaya Tishina St.

Alexander Podrabinek (b. 1953)

Alexander Pinkhosovich PODRABINEK was born in 1953 in Elektrostal, Moscow Region. In 1970, after leaving secondary school, he enrolled at a medical institute, but left after a year. In 1974 Podrabinek enrolled at a college to train as a doctor’s assistant. From 1974 to 1977 he worked in the ambulance service and before his arrest he worked for several months as a paramedic. A. Podrabinek was one of the organizers of the Working Commission to Investigate the Use of Psychiatry for Political Purposes (CCE 44.10; CCE 45.14; CCE 47.3; CCE 48.12 and CCE 49.10). CCE Nos 44 to CCE 48.7 give information on the persecution of Alexander Podrabinek.

On the day after his arrest another four searches were carried out at the homes of Tatyana Velikanova, a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, of Tatyana Osipova, a member of the Working Commission Vyacheslav Bakhmin and of Leonid Ternovsky (who became a member of the Working Commission on 24 May 1978).

The case against Alexander Podrabinek, as became evident after his arrest, had been opened by the Moscow Regional Procuracy under article 190-1 of the Russian Criminal Code at the end of December 1977 (his brother Kirill Podrabinek was arrested at this time, CCE 48.7). The investigator was V.M. Guzhenkov. Soon after his arrest Guzhenkov said that the charge against A. Podrabinek was connected only with his book Punitive Medicine (CCE 44-46) [note 2].

On 20 May an open letter was issued, addressed “To Compatriots and the World Public” (127 signatures), protesting against the arrest of Alexander Podrabinek and calling for support in fighting for his release. A similar document (No. 51) was published by the Moscow Helsinki Group and on 24 May another was issued by the Working Commission (signed by V. Bakhmin and L. Ternovsky). On 24 May Pinkhos Abramovich Podrabinek, the father of Alexander and Kirill, issued an appeal “To all People of Goodwill”.

On 29 May V. Bakhmin was summoned for interrogation. He refused to answer questions concerning A. Podrabinek and his book; he stated that the charge against Podrabinek was absurd and he considered it immoral to take part in an investigation of his case.

As early as 2 June Guzhenkov informed V. Bakhmin, A. Podrabinek’s legal representative, that the investigation was coming to a close and it was necessary to engage a barrister. Knowing Podrabinek’s wishes in this matter, Bakhmin invited the barrister S. Shalman, who agreed to conduct Podrabinek’s defence. At that time, Shalman was on holiday. The administration of the legal consultation office refused to call him back from holiday, despite Shalman’s consent to act, and Guzhenkov did not want to postpone the closing of the case.


On 13 June 1978, the investigation of the case of A. Podrabinek closed. On 19 June, the investigative organs proposed a barrister. Podrabinek refused to engage him.

In this situation V. Bakhmin, in accordance with A. Podrabinek’s wish, invited the British barrister Louis Blom-Cooper to defend him at the trial. At the same time L.G. Machkovsky was engaged to help A. Podrabinek study the case materials.

On 21 June Machkovsky began reading the case materials (four volumes in all, one of which was Punitive Medicine).

On 30 June, the document certifying the completion of the study of the case was signed. The case was transferred to a court.

In mid-June, Professor Linford Rees (CCE 49.19), President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists [United Kingdom], sent a letter to Brezhnev:

“Dear President Brezhnev,

“I have been asked by the Council of my College to write to you to express our members’ concern at reports of the arrest of Mr. A. Podrabinek …

“We hope that you might take a personal interest in this case and ensure that if Mr. Podrabinek is brought to trial the trial is conducted openly.

“The circumstances of this case puzzle us. We realize that the laws of our two countries are different, but it is difficult for us, on the reports we have heard, to understand what Mr. Podrabinek has done that is in any way criminal.”

In June, the College set up a Committee to deal with questions of the abuse of psychiatry. An international committee to defend A. Podrabinek was also founded. Its members included, in particular, the British historian Peter Reddaway and the British psychiatrist Gary Low-Beer (CCE 49.19).

Yury Belov (CCE 48.12) and Mikhail Kukobaka (CCE 43), former political prisoners in psychiatric hospitals whose notes were used in A. Podrabinek’s book, wrote to the Moscow Regional Procuracy, asking to be questioned as witnesses in the Podrabinek case; but they were refused.

Yu. Belov was told (not in writing) that A. Podrabinek’s guilt was already proven and that the investigation had no use for his testimony.

On 13 July, a hearing of witnesses’ testimony in the case of A. Podrabinek, presided over by Blom-Cooper, took place in London. Nine [note 3] witnesses spoke (in particular, a former official of the Serbsky Institute, psychiatrist Yury Novikov [note 4], see CCE 46.15) and written testimonies and tape-recordings were reviewed.[note 5]

On 15 July M. Kukobaka proposed to Blom-Cooper that his notes on the Sychyovka Special Psychiatric Hospital [SPH] be added to the file of testimony. On 20 July Viktor Nekipelov, a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, sent Blom-Cooper excerpts from Kukobaka’s four letters about the Vladimir and Mogilyov Psychiatric Hospitals. He also requested that his book The Institute of Fools [note 6] (CCE 42) be used as testimonial evidence.

Blom-Cooper announced in London that the Soviet Embassy had promised to issue him a visa for a trip to the USSR. He did not receive the visa in time, however, for the trial of A. Podrabinek.

On 18 July, an agreement was concluded with E.S. Shalman for the conduct of A. Podrabinek’s defence.

The Trial

On 15 August the Moscow Regional Court examined the case of Alexander Podrabinek, charged under Article 190-1 of the Russian Criminal Code. The hearing took place in Elektrostal (Moscow Region) in an Assizes session presided over by R.V. Nazarov, Deputy Chairman of the Moscow Regional Court. The prosecution counsel was Suvorov, Deputy Procurator of the Moscow Region; the defence counsel was Shalman.

The trial began at 9 am, but at 6 am the part of the building in which the trial was to take place was already ringed by a cordon of uniformed and plain-clothes police. A. Podrabinek’s friends, who had arrived half-an-hour before the trial was due to begin, were told that there were no places left. “We have already filled the hall in order to maintain order,” declared a young policeman, with provincial naivety. The day before, V. Bakhmin had appealed to judge Nazarov, requesting to be admitted to the trial as the legal representative of the accused. Nazarov had expressed bewilderment at this: it was a normal criminal case, anyone who wanted could be present. However, the following day Nazarov himself had to stand in the rain and rummage in his briefcase for his pass until a plain-clothes man ran out and conducted him through the cordon. Several minutes before the trial began, Pinkhos Podrabinek, the accused’s father, and his wife (she left half-way through the day in order to feed her child and was not re-admitted to the courtroom) were admitted. No other relatives or friends of A. Podrabinek were admitted. At 10.30 am some friends of A. Podrabinek phoned from the post office located in the same building as the courtroom, to Moscow, after which the connection with Moscow was cut off.

At the beginning of the session Alexander Podrabinek submitted a series of petitions to the court: to attach to the case file the ‘Statutes on Psychiatric Hospitals’; the directives of the Ministry of Health concerning food in hospitals; the international classification of illnesses; the indictments and psychiatric reports on 30 political prisoners formerly held in psychiatric hospitals; the reports on the examinations carried out by G. Low-Beer on Pyotr Starchik and Yu. Belov; the medical history of Radchenko and the medical report on his death; and the post-mortem report on Dekhnich.

He also petitioned to call as witnesses the psychiatrist Fyodorov, Yury Belov, Mikhail Kukobaka, P.G. Grigorenko and N.Ya. Shatunovskaya (the mother of Olga Joffe [Iofe] (CCE 11.7) [for her trial, see CCE 15.2] who was compulsorily hospitalized in the Kazan SPH); to procure the two-volume edition of Mashkovsky’s Medicinal Remedies, several copies of A Chronicle of Current Events and the Information Bulletin of the Working Commission, the book by Bloch and Reddaway on psychiatric hospitals in the Soviet Union, issues of the Korsakov Journal of Neurology and Psychiatry containing information about the International Congress of Psychiatrists in Honolulu (CCE 47); to engage an Italian-Russian interpreter, since the case materials include documents in Italian (materials of the Sakharov Hearings); to allow him (Podrabinek) to hear the tape-recordings of his interrogations; to call the British barrister Blom-Cooper to the trial as defence counsel; to arrange that the trial be relayed to all those interested.

Podrabinek gave reasons justifying each petition, almost all of which were supported by his defence counsel. The court rejected all the petitions.

Then A. Podrabinek announced that he was dispensing with the services of his defence counsel Shalman and would conduct his own defence. After several altercations among themselves the court complied with this petition.

A. Podrabinek further stated that two Articles of the RSFSR Criminal Procedural Code — 18 (“The openness of the court examination”) and 20 (“The comprehensive, full and objective investigation of the circumstances of the case”) — had not been observed by the court: the procurator and the members of the court adhered to the Communist ideology and were obliged to fulfil the tasks set by the Party in order to keep their jobs. In this sense they were interested parties. On this basis A. Podrabinek challenged the whole composition of the court. The court rejected the challenge.

Then A. Podrabinek made the following declaration:

“I do not want an illusion of justice. My barrister is not, in actual fact, in a position to conduct my defence, and for this reason I have dispensed with him as my defence counsel at the trial. Moreover, henceforth I shall also take no further part in the trial. I do not participate in stage shows of this kind. I have no artistic talent and therefore shall not take part in this show, even as an extra.

“I demand to be taken from the courtroom.”

The court tried to ignore A. Podrabinek’s demand, but he behaved in such a demonstrative manner (smoking and whistling) that when the questioning of witnesses began, the court was obliged to take him out of the courtroom in accordance with Article 263 of the Russian Code of Criminal Procedure. The Judge issued a caution that A. Podrabinek could submit a petition at any time and thus return to the courtroom, Podrabinek immediately stated that he wanted to return when the time came to make his final speech.

According to the indictment:

“Podrabinek A.P…. is charged with preparing several copies of, and circulating, a document entitled Punitive Medicine when he was living in Elektrostal, Moscow Region, and working in Moscow from 1975 to 1977. In it Podrabinek libels Soviet democracy and the country’s internal policies, identifies the authority in the USSR with totalitarian fascism, makes assertions about the use in our country of ‘repressive psychiatric measures’, and about the premeditated placing in psychiatric hospitals, for their beliefs, of people known to be sane, and states that they were tortured in psychiatric institutions. Podrabinek addressed this document to international organizations and circulated it among his friends in Moscow. The document was used by imperialist propaganda to stir up a campaign of slander against the Soviet Union.”

The indictment cites assertions in the book Punitive Medicine which allegedly bear no relation to reality.

In the book Podrabinek writes that in July 1975 Anatoly Ivanovich Levitin, a patient in Sychovka SPH [Smolensk Region], was killed on the command of doctor N.P. Smirnov, after he was seized during an escape bid. The indictment says: “The case materials, however, have established that there never was a patient of this name in the Sychovka SPH.”

M. M. Fyodorov, chief doctor of the SPH, appearing as a witness at the trial, declared that there had been no instances of murder in the Sychovka SPH and there had not been a patient called Levitin there. Speaking immediately after him, a junior doctor of Sychovka SPH, V.V. Moskalkov, said that in 1975 a patient had been killed while attempting to escape, but he could not remember his name.

The book cites a letter written by M. Kukobaka in which he relates that at the Sychovka SPH the orderly Sasha Dvorenkov sadistically beat the patients. The indictment says in connection with this: “On page 141 mention is made of a certain Sasha Dvorenkov, who allegedly beat the patients. From the information received from Sychovka SPH it can be concluded that such a person never worked in the hospital.”

Other witnesses questioned in court were:

  • V. D. Steshkin, the chief doctor of Leningrad SPH, who said that “normal methods of treatment were used in the hospital; other methods were not used if there was no need for them”;
  • Abrosimov, head of the Smolensk SPH;
  • T. A. Kotova, a section head of the Oryol SPH;
  • F. Svyatsky, former chief doctor of the Chernyakhovsk SPH;
  • A, G. Semiryozhko, chief doctor of the Dnepropetrovsk SPH;

Also called as witnesses were V.G. Vvedensky and his wife G. I. Zhabina. Following a denunciation made by the couple a search was carried out on 14 March 1977 at the flat of E.V. Bobrovich (CCE 44.6, where the surname is misspelt). It was then that the manuscript of Punitive Medicine first fell into the hands of the KGB.

In the absence of defence counsel and the accused the court questioned the witnesses very quickly.

The Procurator concluded his speech in the following way:

“The heaviest sentence possible under Article 190-1 of the Russian Criminal Code should be imposed on him. Of course, he would very much like the article to be a political one. This was why he played out the spectacle we have watched. He thought he would receive seven years under Article 70, but even the degree of the punishment has let him down.

“The maximum is not seven, but three years. However, considering the fact that this is his first criminal offence and that he is only 25 years old, I request that a sentence of five years of exile be imposed, in order that he can be re-educated in a labour collective.”

After an adjournment of two hours the sentence was announced: with the application of Article 43 of the Russian Criminal Code, 5 years’ exile.[7]


A detailed description of the trial of Alexander Podrabinek is given in the 11th issue of the Information Bulletin of the Working Commission. This also contains S.V. Kalistratova’s “A Defence Speech not Delivered at the RSFSR Supreme Court during the Review on Appeal of the Case of A. Podrabinek”, Yu. Belov’s “Testimony”, which he wanted to give at the trial, V. Nekipelov’s declaration and passages from the four letters written by M. Kukobaka (see above).

At the beginning of her undelivered speech S.V. Kalistratova states:

“The materials to which I have access on the case of Podrabinek give grounds to assert that the laws operating in our country have been violated (and are constantly and relentlessly being violated) from the moment criminal proceedings were instituted against Podrabinek until this day. This assertion is not an empty one, and as far as my strength and resources allow, I will try to prove it.”

The manuscript of Podrabinek’s book was confiscated by the KGB in March 1977 (CCE 44.6). The investigative organs, regarding it as criminal, were obliged, in accordance with Article 3 of the Russian Code of Criminal Procedure, to institute criminal proceedings at once. However, ‘acting outside any procedural norms laid down by law’, the authorities put a tail on Podrabinek, and threatened and blackmailed him in an attempt to force him to leave the USSR.

Having crudely contravened Article 276 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, according to which ‘all petitions concerning the demanding and verification of evidence relevant to the case should be met without exception, the court rejects all his petitions and, by this token, completely deprives Podrabinek of the chance to defend himself’.

In particular, the reference to the ‘non-responsibility’ of a number of witnesses whose appearance was requested by Podrabinek was unlawful. Kalistratova explains that neither a person’s non-responsibility, as established by some court in the past, nor the fact of his having been treated in a psychiatric hospital pre-determines his mental incompetence as regards being a witness. In accordance with Article 79 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, in cases where there is any doubt, the court must verify the competence of an individual to appear as a winess by means of an examination.

In the light of Article 20 of the Code, the court must “investigate the moral and ethical sides of the accused’s character”.

“Had people who knew Sasha [Alexander] been questioned it would have become clear that Alexander and slander are incompatible.”

Despite the real meaning of Article 43 of the Russian Criminal Code the court referred to this article in sentencing A. Podrabinek to exile. S.V. Kalistratova comments that such a violation, committed for the first time in 1968 at the [Red Square] “demonstrators”’ trial (CCE 4.1, Kalistratova was one of the defenders in this trial, Chronicle), is constantly being practised in political trials.

S.V. Kalistratova notes that the court involuntarily demonstrated the high degree of reliability of the materials gathered by Podrabinek:

“out of 300 factual episodes cited in his book only 13 figure in the indictment. In view of the procedural infringements committed by the court, ‘and with regard to these 13 episodes, a lack of correspondence with reality of the facts set out in Podrabinek’s manuscript cannot be judged to have been established”.

The infringements of the law continued after the sentence had been imposed:

“In accordance with Article 319 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, an individual sentenced to a punishment not involving loss of freedom should be quickly released from custody in the courtroom. But Sasha Podrabinek was taken to prison under escort … Moreover, before the period for appealing was over Sasha had already been transferred to No. 3 Transit Prison at Krasnaya Presnya.

“Article 320 of the Code of Criminal Procedure states that a convicted person held in custody must be given a copy of the verdict no later than three days after it has been read out.

“As of 30 August, there is reliable information that Podrabinek had not yet been given a copy of the verdict.”

Kalistratova concludes:

“Alexander Podrabinek is a dissenter. In accordance with his convictions, he fought for the rights of the mentally disturbed and those of sane people declared insane for political ends. But he is not a slanderer. He acted within the boundaries of the law and did not commit a crime.

“The above are the legal grounds on which I base my assertion that the sentence in the case of Podrabinek should be annulled and the criminal case against him closed due to the absence of a corpus delicti.”

On 17 August, at a meeting with his father, A. Podrabinek said that during the pre-trial investigation he did not sign a single record of interrogation and that Investigator Guzhenkov had tried by using threats to make him take part in the investigation.

On the same day Podrabinek was transferred to Krasnaya Presnya Transit Prison.


On 16 August, the following two documents were presented to a press conference for foreign correspondents: an “Appeal to Foreign Psychiatric Associations” by V. Bakhmin and L. Ternovsky, members of the Working Commission, and an “Appeal to Psychiatrists Throughout the World” by S.M. Polikanov (CCE 47), a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences.

At the same press conference, the previously anonymous consultant psychiatrist of the Working Commission, Alexander Alexandrovich Voloshanovich (who works in a psychiatric hospital in the Moscow suburbs), came out into the open. Voloshanovich related that at the request of the Working Commission he had carried out 27 examinations (some of his conclusions have been quoted in the Chronicle, see CCE 48 and 49). In not a single case could he find grounds for compulsory hospitalization. [note 8]


It was not until the beginning of September that Alexander Podrabinek was given a copy of the verdict. He was not allowed to study the record of the court session until 17 October (according to Articles 264 and 265 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, this should take place no later than six days after the trial).

The RSFSR Supreme Court examined A. Podrabinek’s appeal on 23 November.[note 9] The sentence was left as it was. (As had previously happened in May, V. Bakhmin was dispatched on an urgent business trip at this time.)



[1] Information Bulletin No. 6 has been published in English by Amnesty International’s International Secretariat, and No. 11 by its British Section. Nos. 1-5 and 6-9 have appeared in Russian in Volnoe slovo, Frankfurt, 1978, Nos. 31-32. Nos. 1-14 total some 400 pages.

[2] Published in Russian as Karatelnaya meditsina, by Khronika Press: New York, 1979. A 25-page summary was published in English by Amnesty International, International Secretariat, 1977.

[3] Corrected from “five”. The nine were: Yury Novikov, Vladimir Bukovsky, Ludmila Alexeyeva, Marina Voikhanskaya, Gary Low-Beer, P. Sainsbury, Natalya Gorbanevskaya, I. Glezer, Peter Reddaway. Written or tape-recorded testimony was submitted by Petro Grigorenko, Valentin Turchin, Leonid Plyushch, A. Papiashvili, and Sidney Bloch.

[4] Dr. Yury Novikov’s testimony about Soviet psychiatry and its political abuse first appeared in six articles in the West German weekly Der Stern (Hamburg), between 22 March and 26 April 1978.

[5] Louis Blom-Cooper, Q.C., and his assistant, barrister Brian Wrobel, compiled the evidence and their own commentary into a 54-page dossier, which they sent to the Moscow judicial authorities on 23 July 1978 for inclusion in the case materials, as required by Soviet law.

[6] Nekipelov’s Institute of Fools: Notes from the Serbsky was published in English by Victor Gollancz, in London in 1980.

[7] The sentence provoked protests from a number of medical and other groups, and also from the British government, whose Foreign Secretary, Dr. David Owen, deplored it. His spokesman was reported as saying on August 16 that the case was “particularly disturbing in view of the fact that the Soviet authorities action appeared to relate to Mr. Podrabinek’s investigation of the misuse of psychiatry for political ends. This was a subject which aroused very strong feelings in Britain and about which Dr. Owen personally was very concerned”.

[8] Copies of 23 of Voloshanovich’s reports are in the possession of the British Royal College of Psychiatrists and other bodies. They are confidential documents but extracts from them can be publicly quoted should the examinees in question be forcibly hospitalized or in danger of such hospitalization.

[9] On 22 August 1978 Blom-Cooper and Wrobel sent a 14-page appeal to the RSFSR Supreme Court, detailing many of the violations of legal procedure also noted by defence counsel Sophia Kalistratova.