Crackdown Continues as Another Russian Activist and Blogger Faces Extremism Charges
New York City – Human Rights First condemns the ongoing prosecution of Russian human rights defender Maxim Efimov, who has been charged with criticizing Orthodox Church leaders and believers in an online article. As the U.S. State Department prepares its upcoming human rights report, the misuses of anti-extremism legislation, such as the statute used against Efimov, should be a primary aspect of that report. In addition, while the U.S. Embassy in Moscow has been outspoken against cases like these, the organization calls on them to increase their monitoring of these situations, and make their concerns known to the Russian government at multilateral forums. Efimov, chair of Youth Human Rights Group Karelia, has been charged under article 282, part 1, for criticizing Russian Orthodox Church leaders and believers in an online article published in December 2011. “The case against Maxim Efimov is a classic example of targeted persecution under the guise of ‘combating extremism,’” says Human Rights First’s Innokenty Grekov. “Russia’s Supreme Court reaffirmed in 2011 that the country’s constitution and laws set forth a significantly higher threshold for investigating and prosecuting hate speech than what is being conveniently applied by the Investigative Committee and prosecutors in Petrozavodsk, who either didn’t get the memo or are purposely ignoring it in order to go after Efimov for his civic and political activism.” Efimov’s apartment was searched by the police, who confiscated his personal computer to locate more “extremist” materials, such as publications and media titles banned by the courts. Although bloggers and activists are rarely given actual prison terms, Efimov must now invest significant time and resources to fight the charges he faces in court. He will be represented by the Kazan-based interregional human rights group Agora. Russia’s misuse of “extremism” laws is monitored by the Moscow-based Sova Center for Information and Analysis. The group’s 2011 report noted that internet freedom is threatened by Russia’s increased efforts to monitor, investigation, and prosecute online speech. Agora’s monitors these cases and identified 500 cases of restrictions on freedom of access to the Internet or persecution of Internet users for exercising their right to freedom of expression in 2011. Human Rights First joins the calls by Russian civil society groups like Agora and Sova to amend Russia’s ambiguous antiextremism legislation to prioritize violent crime and to fulfill Russia’s international obligations to protect freedom of expression, religion, and assembly and association. Russia’s Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin has recently seconded these pleas by issuing his own recommendations to amend these laws and work to prevent unlawful persecution. “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. 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,” concluded Grekov.