5-15-2012By Innokenty Grekov
In a decision reminiscent of old Soviet practices, the Russian government is trying to force activist Maxim Efimov to undergo a psychiatric evaluation in a mental hospital. Last month, Human Rights First condemned the ongoing persecution of Efimov, chair of Youth Human Rights Group Karelia.
The use of psychiatry to pressure dissidents, religious activists, and opposition leaders was not uncommon in the Soviet Union. Ironically, while churchgoers were routinely hospitalized for ‘insanity,” it was Efimov’s criticism of the Orthodox Church that triggered his prosecution. He was charged under article 282, part 1, for criticizing church leaders and believers in an online article published in December 2011.
Regional human rights group AGORA, whose lawyers represent Efimov, promised to conduct an independent psychiatric evaluation for their client, reminding the government that “the European Court has a clear and unequivocal position in relation to the grounds on which people can be placed in psychiatric hospitals,” which are hardly applicable in this case. AGORA is preparing to take this case to the Supreme Court of Karelia.
Meanwhile, state pressure on Efimov keeps mounting. This weekend, our partners from the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis in Moscow reported an arson attack on the Saint Catherine Cathedral in Petrozavodsk. Two days after this heinous incident, Efimov was summoned for another round of questioning, and the investigator alleged that the attack was carried out by his supporters—another effort by the government to interfere with his work. Efimov had condemned the attack on the cathedral and sent condolences to congregants and denies any involvement, claiming that his being at the center of this arson investigation is baseless and is yet another example of interference in his daily work as a human rights defender in Karelia.