Psychiatry was systematically used in the 1970s to suppress Soviet dissidents by declaring them mentally ill and committing them to asylums, a doctor wrote in the first article printed by state-run media to acknowledge such abuses.

"The leadership was content: In our country there were no dissidents - there were only insane people," Mikhail I. Buyanov, a psychiatrist and neurologist, wrote in his historical survey of Soviet psychiatry, published by the educational newspaper Uchitelskaya Gazeta.Human rights activists in the Soviet Union and abroad have alleged for years that the Kremlin used psychiatric hospitals to incarcerate dissidents who were in fact mentally healthy. Some say the practice began under Josef V. Stalin or Nikita S. Khrushchev.

The government enacted a new law in January that makes it a crime to commit a sane person to a mental institution. But public health officials who have appeared at Moscow news conferences have denied that dissidents were systematically confined to asylums, or avoided answering the question.

However, Buyanov wrote that with the forcible confinement in 1970 of biologist and dissident writer Zhores Medevdev to a regional psychiatric hospital in Kaluga, "a new chapter began in the history of Soviet psychiatry."

"It's true that before this, people were sent to psychiatric hospitals for reasons that were mostly political, rather than of a medical character," Buyanov said. "But after 1970, this was done more and more often."

Medvedev, the brother of Marxist historian Roy Medvedev, was freed after rights activist Andrei Sakharov, poet and editor Andrei Tvardovsky and others demanded his release. He now lives in Britain.

Andrei Koryagin, himself a psychiatrist, was sentenced to seven years in a prison camp in 1981 after accusing Soviet authorities of sending mentally healthy dissidents to hospitals, where they were forced to take drugs.