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Russia: Anti-Church Activist Flees Under Psychiatric Incarceration Threat

RuNet Echo This post is part of RuNet Echo, a Global Voices project to interpret the Russian language internet. All Posts · Learn more

Maksim Yefimov, a blogger and leader of the Youth Human Rights Group in Russia’s northwest Republic of Karelia, has fled Russia to Poland after months of interrogations by prosecutors that included threats of detention in a psychiatric clinic in retaliation for statements made online against the Russian Orthodox Church. He explains [ru]:

Из-за произвола спецслужб, возбудивших незаконное уголовное дело в отношении меня, и желающих всеми правдами и неправдами поквитаться со мной за мою правозащитную деятельность, я был вынужден уехать из мафиозной Карелии за границу.

Because of the tyranny of the intelligence agencies — who have illegally charged me with a crime, and will stop at nothing to ‘get even’ with me after my human rights work — I was forced to leave the mafia-state of Karelia and go abroad.

Yefimov has been on the run for more than a month, after “disappearing” at the end of May, around the same time that a court order required him to be confined to a psychiatric hospital. Back in December 2011, Yefimov, an active blogger, authored a short article for the Youth Human Rights Group, titled “Karelia Is Tired of the Pope” [ru], which included the following language:

В столице Карелии наблюдается рост антицерковных настроений. Ничего удивительного в этом нет. Мыслящая часть общества понимает, что церковь – это тоже партия власти. РПЦ так же, как и ЕР дурачит народ сказками о том, как хорошо мы живём, при этом гребя под себя деньги. Тотальная коррупция, олигархия и всевластие спецслужб напрямую связаны с возрождением русской православной церкви (РПЦ). За бюджетные деньги, которых нет на самое необходимое, в Карелии строятся храмы, РПЦ получает в пользование помещения детских садов, которых катастрофически не хватает.

[...]

Всё это вызывает рвотный рефлекс у нормальных людей, которые, не будучи способны повлиять на это засилье «попографии», выражают своё отношение к провинциальным чиновникам РПЦ через надписи на стенах зданий, где кучкуется православное отродье. «Payandpray» (Плати и молись), «Christisdead» (Бог умер) – на стенах Православного центра в Петрозаводске.

In the capital of Karelia, we see anti-Church sentiments growing. There is nothing shocking about this. The thinking part of society understands that the Church is another wing of the Party of Power [United Russia]. The Russian Orthodox Church, just like United Russia, cons the public with fairytales about how well we are living, all while scooping up money for itself. Total corruption, the oligarchy, and the all-powerful intelligence agencies are directly linked to the rise of the Russian Orthodox Church. Using money from the state budget, which isn’t even necessary to fund the Orthodox Church's operations, churches are being built in Karelia. The Church is also being granted the use of land that now hosts several nursery schools (which are currently in catastrophically short supply).

[...]

All this triggers a gag reflex in decent people, who, being incapable of impacting the stranglehold of the “papalnography,” express their feelings about the Church's provincial bureaucrats by writing on the walls of the buildings where the Orthodox spawn gather together. “Pay-n-pray” and “Christ is dead” can be found on the walls of the Orthodox center in Petrozavodsk.

Petrozavodsk, Khizi (Russia), 13 October 2006, photo by Claude Springer, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Following this post in December 2011, Yefimov was quickly placed under investigation and charged with “extremism.” Yefimov’s trial began in April, and by May the prosecution was petitioning to have him committed to a psychiatric hospital. Though the local authorities’ reasons are unclear, it is true that Yefimov blogged several times in April about the stress of being investigated for extremism. On April 12, he wrote that he had to telephone paramedics [ru] to rescue him from what appears to have been a panic attack. (Yefimov claims to have suffered from an intense headache and “sand in the eyes.”) That same day, he reported that a psychologist [ru] would be working with him to manage the pressure of police investigation. On April 16, Yefimov posted a plea on his LiveJournal, asking readers to write letters to the state investigator and prosecutor. In the comments section, LJ user Mikhail Pakhnutov expressed [ru] his disbelief in Yefimov's situation and offered his encouragement:

Максим у меня есть совет – для начала станьте пофигистом и успокойтесь….ничего они Вам не сделают…а на все их вопросы посылайте их на хер…извините за грубость…Кто там может психологически воздействовать??? Эти щенки – ублюдки??? Вы же морально сильнее их….вот и чувствуйте себя соответственно. Не верьте не единому слову ….не верьте их страшилкам…все это блеф и бред!

Maksim, I have some advice: first off, chill out and take a breath….they aren't going to do anything to you…to all their questions, just tell them to go to hell… sorry for this rudeness…Who pressures people with psychiatry??? These punk bastards??? You are morally stronger than them…and you must feel that you are. Don’t believe a word of theirs …don’t believe their scare tactics….it's all a bluff and a fantasy!

Despite Pakhnutov's confidence, the prosecution’s petition was granted in May, and Yefimov was required to appear in court on May 23. On May 24, Yefimov disappeared [ru], and a federal warrant was issued for his arrest, two days later.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, has protested, saying that sending people to psychiatric clinics “is an old Soviet practice: people undesirable to the authorities are pronounced mad. It is absolutely illegal.”

Yefimov’s blog posts stop suddenly on May 20, but pick up again by May 25. One day after he disappeared from Karelia, he posted hand-written notes from psychiatrists, affirming his sanity.

Mikhail Pakhnutov commented again, this time in a state of shock [ru]:

Да Максим….от такого количества экспертов сам с ума сойдешь…слов нет…цирк сгорел – клоуны остались…

Yes, Maksim….a person could go crazy just from being analyzed by so many experts…. there are no words…the circus has burned down, and only the clowns remain…

After a late-June decision by Karelia's Supreme Court and a mid-July reconsideration by prosecutors, the state order to place Yefimov in a mental hospital has been withdrawn [ru]. He is still charged with violating Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code for inciting religious hatred, however. If convicted, Yefimov could face up to two years in prison. For this reason, he states that he has no intention of returning to Russia, and does not rule out [ru] applying for political asylum in Poland.

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