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Shock after Kursk mother is forcibly sedated
LONDON -- A woman protesting to a top Russian minister over the death of her son in the Kursk tragedy was apparently forcibly injected with a sedative, television pictures have shown.
The episode -- which came after the woman was berating Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov over the disaster -- has prompted international concern.
Russian television film showed the middle-aged woman collapsing after apparently being injected with a needle by a medic who crept up behind her during a meeting between naval staff and relatives of the dead 118 sailors at Vidyayevo, where the submariners were based.
The film was taped last Friday as the world waited to see if any of the Kursk sailors had survived.
The emotional woman pleads with the minister to answer a plea for help: "How much longer are we going to have to endure this?" she said, "They are there in a tin can.... and for $50 a month. Do you have children? Surely not!"
An attempt by a naval officer to calm her down fails and she shouts at him: "Take off your medals."
She is then approached by a female medic who apparently injects her with the sedative and she collapses. The incident was captured by a local television station based in Murmansk.
Dr Roy Allison, director of the Russia and Eurasia programme at the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, said: "It is shocking and it does raise a lot of questions about how those in military service are dealt with."
Dr Allison watched earlier television footage of the woman and said she was very distraught and "beside herself with grief."
Little understanding of the media
He said: "I don't think this was organised at any high level. It was organised within the base but the fact it was done is shocking. It shows that they have really very little understanding of the media and of the nature of criticism in contemporary Russia.
"It shouldn't be blown out of proportion, there hasn't been anything quite like this over the last few years."
But he added: "It raises all kinds of uneasy memories of dissident voices being suppressed and incarcerated in hospitals for the criminally insane."
Klebanov is also being held responsible for the "public image failures and for the lies" concerning the sinking of the Kursk and the subsequent failed rescue attempt, Dr Allison said.
On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin hit out at the "oligarchs" who run many of the country's television and radio stations and newspapers which have criticized him.
On the state-controlled RTR TV channel, Putin alluded to Boris Berezovsky, who controls the daily newspaper Kommersant and who organised donations for the bereaved families. Putin said such people had "long promoted the destruction of the army, the fleet and the state."
Dr Allison said there were "several main blocs that are not fully independent" controlling the media in Russia, but added: "You could say the same of the west."
He said such media magnates did tend to follow a line which reflected their own interests but the feeling in the west is that the Russian media is in a "transitional stage and better than a state-owned television station which would exercise censorship."
A spokeswoman for Amnesty International said the organization was still trying to clarify whether the woman was injected by a state official. But she said that if that proved to be the case it would be "a clear breach of her human rights." She said Russia was a signatory to an international treaty which states that no-one should be subjected to medical treatment without their consent.
Editor of Britain's monitoring group, Index on Censorship, Judith Vidal-Hall described the incident as "appalling." She said it was reminiscent of something out of a James Bond film.
"Jabbing a needle into the arm of a grieving woman is not about a new Russia, it's about the old one. It's about a vicious dictatorship. The nature of the beast remains unchanged -- if it can't control something it will fight it."
She said newspaper offices in Russia which spoke out against Putin had been raided and their proprietors faced with fraud and corruption charges. While on a visit to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania recently Vidal-Hall had been asked what she thought of Putin.
She said: "I told them I thought he had taken Russia back a decade. I think he is pure evil. But I don't think he will get the media back on his side again. Putin and his military are running things as though it were the old days."
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