View Adopted: 2021.07.19
The author of the communication is Igor Postnov, a medical doctor who used to work at a regional clinic of psychiatry and drug abuse treatment in Belarus. He claims that, after he published several articles and videos online in which he complained about medical health services and asked the prosecutor’s office to investigate crimes committed by the management of the Vitebsk clinic, he started facing problems with the authorities. By an order of the Vitebsk District Court, a civil court, he was detained in a psychiatric ward in August 2013 despite claiming to be in good health, while the prosecutor claimed that his behavior was “inadequate, with signs of long-lasting psychiatric disorder”. The decision to commit him was adopted in closed hearing.
The author submits that, by placing him in indefinite detention and psychiatric treatment, the State party violated his rights under articles 7 and 10 (1) of the Covenant. The author also submits that, by subjecting him to involuntary confinement and by denying him and his lawyers the right to be present during the court hearings, the State party violated his rights under articles 9 (1) and 14 (1) of the Covenant. By punishing him and placing him in psychiatric detention, and by not letting him use a telephone or correspond with the outside world, the State party violated his rights under article 19 of the Covenant.The author also claims that the State party violated his rights under articles 2 (1) and (3), 15 (2), 17 and 26 of the Covenant.
Regarding the author’s claims under articles 2 (1) and (3), 10 (1), 15 (2), 17 and 26 of the Covenant, in the absence of any further pertinent information on file, the Committee considers that the author has failed to sufficiently substantiate these allegations for the purposes of admissibility. As for the claims under articles 7, 9 (1), 14 (1) and 19 of the Covenant, they have been sufficiently substantiated for the purposes of admissibility.
Regarding article 7 of the Covenant, the Committee is of the view that the author’s involuntary hospitalization and subjection to medical treatment against his will amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.
The Committee recalls that commitment to and treatment in a psychiatric institution against the will of a patient constitutes a form of deprivation of liberty that falls under the terms of article 9 of the Covenant. The Committee’s jurisprudence setting the principle is A. v. New Zealand (CCPR/C/66/D/754/1997), para. 7.2; and Fijalkowska v. Poland (CCPR/C/84/D/1061/2002), para. 8.2. In this sense, the Committee considers that involuntary hospitalization can only be applied, if at all, as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time, and must be accompanied by adequate procedural and substantive safeguards established by law. The procedures should ensure respect for the views of the individual and should ensure that any representative genuinely represents and defends the wishes and interests of the individual. Thus, the Committee notes that the author was not informed about the time and location of the hearings, nor able to be present during the trial hearings or appeal procedures; he was not allowed to be examined by other medical professionals during the proceedings; and that the order of involuntary confinement was unlimited in time and not subject to periodic review. Hence, the Committee considers that his rights under article 9 were violated.
Concerning article 14 (1), the Committee considers that, based on the purpose, character and severity of the author’s involuntary hospitalization, the guarantees of article 14 (1) of the Covenant apply in this case. Even though the article generally applies to criminal cases and suits at law, some detention regimes that result in confinement, as in the present case, attempt to bypass the controls imposed by the rules of criminal procedure. Accordingly, the facts as presented by the author amount to a violation of the author’s rights under articles 14 (1). Lastly, the Committee finds that the State party has failed to justify that the restriction of the author’s right to impart information and ideas by his involuntary confinement was necessary and proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued, as set out in article 19 (3) of the Covenant.
The State party is obligated, inter alia, to provide the author with adequate compensation, including reimbursement for any legal costs incurred by him. The State party is also under an obligation to take all steps necessary to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future.
January 19, 2022
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