Rights activists have condemned the prosecution of a blogger from the northern Russian region of Karelia, Maxim Efimov, who has been charged with hate speech for an online article criticizing the Russian Orthodox Church.
In December 2011, Yefimov, the chair of Youth Human Rights Group Karelia, published an article on the internet denounced corruption in the church. In the article, Karelia Is Tired of Priests, Yefimov also stated his support for a secular state and the equality of all confessions before the law.
On 13 April prosecutors summoned Yefimov for questioning. He was later charged with “actions aimed at the incitement of national, racial, or religious enmity or abasement of human dignity” (Article 282, Part 1 of the Russian Criminal Code). At the request of Karelia investigators, in May Yefimov was committed to a mental hospital for psychiatric evaluation.
A lawyer for Yefimiv, Olga Rybalova, said she would challenge the court’s ruling.
Although bloggers and activists are rarely given actual prison terms, Efimov must now invest significant time and resources to fight the charges in court. Efimov’s apartment was searched by police, who confiscated his personal computer to locate more “extremist” materials, such as publications and media titles banned by the courts.
There are no reasons to commit Yefimov to a mental hospital, said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of Moscow Helsinki Group. “This is an old Soviet practice: people undesirable to the authorities are pronounced mad. It is absolutely illegal. No one has put Yefimov’s mental health in doubt, so why should he undergo psychiatric evaluation?”
Alexeyeva emphasized that in her view, the Yefimov case is an example of targeted persecution under the guise of “combating extremism.” Moscow Helsinki Group will monitor the case and will ask an independent psychiatric association to take part in the evaluation of the blogger, Alexeyeva added.
Another member of this rights group, Valery Borshev, said that in Soviet times “punitive psychiatry” was applied to the church faithful, but now the situation is reversed as the authorities try to use psychiatry against atheists.
“In the dissident era from the 1960s to the 1980s, I was with the religious rights movement. In those days there were plenty of cases when authorities exerted pressure on the faithful through psychiatry, committed them to mental hospitals… This was a phenomenon, we, the rights activists and the whole world were talking about.”
Borshevsky also said that in his view there are no reasons to open a criminal case against Yefimov.
“The case of Maxim Efimov is not unique. Human rights defenders are routinely investigated, warned, and charged under Russia’s ambiguous ‘extremism’ laws, statutes that are easily manipulated to go after dissent, spokesman for the U.S. Human Rights First group, Innokenty Grekov, said in a press release issued in April.
The U.S. State Department must highlight these concerns and speak out against the abuse of anti-extremism laws. We also call on the Russian authorities to drop these charges and return Mr. Efimov’s computer,” Grekov added.
However, Oleg Orlov, head of Russia’s Memorial Rights Activist Center said the case against the blogger is fair and the man should undergo psychiatric evaluation. “In my view, the appearance of this text [Yefimov’s article] on the internet is unacceptable. Lawyers should decide whether it incites hatred or not.”
“Psychiatric evaluation could be held, the court should decide on it. I see nothing that violates human rights in it,” Orlov added.