A court in Russia has committed an anti-Putin activist to a psychiatric hospital indefinitely, a move criticised by human rights groups as a return to Soviet Russia's practice of political psychiatry.

Mikhail Kosenko was found guilty of taking part in a mass protest and using violence against riot police on the eve of Vladimir Putin's inauguration last year, AFP reports.

However, the court ruled that due to mental illness he was not responsible for his actions and sent him to a hospital for treatment instead of prison.

"The court ruled that Kosenko undergo compulsory medical treatment," his lawyer Valery Shukhardin said.

Just days earlier, Human Rights Watch called for all the charges against Kosenko to be dropped. He suffers from a mild form of schizophrenia, which was diagnosed in 2001.

However, his condition was regularly monitored and he manages the condition with medication. He has never shown aggression, needed specialist assistance or hospitalisation. He had no police record before the events in Bolotnava which led to his arrest.

His sister said that throughout his time in custody, Kosenko showed no sign of aggression. Despite this, in 2012 doctors from the state psychiatric research centre diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia, a more serious condition that would suggest Kosenko was a danger to himself and others.

Political abuse

Dr Yuri Savenko, the head of Russia's Independent Psychiatric Association, also said there was no reason for Kosenko to be committed to a psychiatric hospital. He said the state experts had overlooked 12 years of observations by his doctors, which show he had never been violent as a result of his condition.

Another prominent psychiatrist in Russia told Human Rights Watch he considers the case an example of the state using psychiatry for political purposes.

In Soviet-era Russia, there was systematic political abuse of psychiatry where it was used as a tool to eliminate opponents. The Russian Federation has since acknowledged that psychiatry was used for political purposes and took responsibility for its victims.

Prior to the court ruling, Tanya Lokshina, Russia program director at Human Rights Watch, said: "Kosenko should never have been forced to spend 16 months behind bars on grossly disproportionate charges, and now he faces indefinite, forced psychiatric treatment."

The organisation also said there was no evidence against Kosenko to find him guilty of the alleged crimes: "The majority of the evidence, including from the police officer himself, indicates that Kosenko never touched him. The court heard nothing that would justify the charge of threatening the life of the official."