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Psychiatrists to Decide Whether to Readmit Soviets to World Group

October 12, 1989

ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ Members of the World Psychiatric Association gathered Thursday at a conference to decide whether to readmit colleagues from the Soviet Union.

The international professional body for psychiatrists, meeting for the first time in six years, is taking up the Soviet question during its weeklong congress amid allegations that political dissidents are still being punished in Soviet psychiatric hospitals.

In a preliminary meeting Wednesday, the group’s executive committee, led by its president, Kostas Stefanis, recommended re-entry for the Soviets, known officially as the All-Union Society of Psychiatrists and Narcologists.

The Soviet state-sanctioned society was forced to withdraw from the world body in 1983 after allegations surfaced that dissidents were being certified as insane.

″The Soviets admit that some excesses took place in their country in the past, and say that these will not be repeated in the future,″ Stefanis said.

Three dissident Soviet psychiatrists who have been interned in psychiatric hospitals and now live in the West said before the congress opened that admitting the official Soviet group would be ″tantamount to condoning abuse.″

One of the men, Anatoly Koryagin, said the Soviet psychiatric establishment has admitted individual instances of wrong diagnosis but continues to deny the systematic abuse of psychiatry.

The congress opened in a tense atmosphere after the association’s general assembly clashed in the preliminary session over voting procedures that will affect the ballot on the Soviet issue.

Delegates from the United States, Britain, West Germany, Canada and Australia alleged that changes to voting statutes proposed by the association’s executive committee were aimed at facilitating re-entry for the Soviets, according to sources at the meeting.

The association’s general assembly is scheduled to vote on the Soviet question Tuesday.

The association’s executive committee executive came under fire from some of its members in March when it gave provisional membership to the official Soviet group, pending a final decision at the Athens congress.

A U.S. delegation led by a State Department official went to the Soviet Union in February to check claims that psychiatry was no longer being used as a political weapon. The U.S. psychiatrists said that despite some progress, more legal safeguards were needed to prevent the hospitalization of dissidents.

On the basis of the U.S. report, the American Psychiatric Association, a member of the international body, decided to vote against full membership for the Soviet society at the Athens congress.

Robert van Voren, the leader of a Netherlands-based human rights group that is campaigning against re-entry of the Soviets, said the use of psychiatry for politcal reasons is still common in the Soviet Union.

″We have evidence of 40 dissidents who are being held in Soviet Psychiatric institutions for political reasons,″ van Voren said in an interview.

Van Voren’s pressure group, the International Association on the Political Use of Psychiatry, will brief delegates on allegations of psychiatric abuse in the Soviet Union before the vote.

The main group will also decide on whether to admit a second Soviet society of psychiatrists, the Independent Psychiatric Association. That association, which does not have the backing of the Soviet government, also maintains that the political use of psychiatry is still continuing in the Soviet Union. The international group can admit both Soviet associations.

The congress also will discuss about 3,400 research papers on psychiatry written by members of the world organization.

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