The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Alexander Gabyshev
In accordance with international guidelines defining the term, Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Alexander Gabyshev, a shaman from a Siberian region of Yakutia, as a political prisoner. Deprivation of liberty was applied to him solely because of his political and religious beliefs, as well as a non-violent exercise of freedom of movement, expression, peaceful assembly, conscience, and religion. We urge for the immediate and unconditional release of Gabyshev and his full rehabilitation with redress.
A shaman from Yakutsk Alexander Gabyshev made three attempts to march to Moscow and planned a fourth one to carry out a ceremony of exorcise a “demon” of Vladimir Putin there. He decided to walk more than 8,000 kilometres from Yakutsk to Moscow and in August 2021 to hold a shamanistic ceremony there. If Putin resigns at this point, the mission will be completed.
Gabyshev voluntarily interrupted his first attempt to walk to Moscow in June – September 2018 due to his dog’s injury. During the second attempt (March 6 – September 19, 2019) the march became widely known due to media coverage and bloggers. Thousands of people began to follow his progress, listen to his YouTube broadcasts, express support and help financially. Dozens of supporters joined the shaman in his walk and formed a squad. With an increasing fame, an increasing push-back from the authorities began. As a result, the second and third (December 7-10, 2019) attempts were ended with an arrest of Gabyshev and criminal cases against him. The fourth march (scheduled for June 22, 2020) was prevented on May 12, 2020 by placing Gabyshev in a neuropsychiatric clinic.
On September 12, 2019, a criminal case was opened against Gabyshev for public calls for extremism (Part 1 of Article 280 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, up to four years of prison). The charges are based on Gabyshev’s comments in his YouTube videos about the march to Moscow filmed between March 6 – May 22, 2019. According to Gabyshev’s lawyers, the investigation deliberately took Gabyshev’s words out of context. Despite the fact that the case was instituted in September last year, the shaman has not yet been charged.
On May 12, 2020, under the guise of taking a test for coronavirus, Gabyshev was isolated in the Yakut Republican Psychoneurological Dispensary. On June 2, he was left there for involuntary hospitalization by a decision of the Yakutsk City Court, allegedly due to a severe psychiatric disorder.
Why does Memorial consider Gabyshev a political prisoner?
As soon as Gabyshev became well-known, the authorities began to restrict him of the exercise of his rights. The criminal case was opened after a rally in support of his followers, and the hospitalization was carried out after the announcement of the start of a new march.
Doctors and government officials talk about the hospitalization of Gabyshev in a political context, clearly linking it to a growing popularity and social influence of the shaman.
None of legal grounds for involuntary hospitalization have been convincingly proven. The circumstances of hospitalization and medical examination indicate the absence of such grounds. The court, which decided on the forced hospitalization of Gabyshev, also did not consider the situation fully and objectively.
The failure of the investigation for nine months to indict Gabyshev in a criminal case indicate his innocence.
According to the lawyers, there is a reason to fear for Gabyshev’s health because of the drugs that he is given in the dispensary. The chamber where he is contained includes 11 people. A mobile phone use is not allowed.