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Defence Lawyers Ask Prosecutor General to Refuse Investigative Committee’s Request to Seek Extradition from Estonia of Blogger who Criticized Russian Orthodox Church

Source: Open Information Agency

17 September 2012

Blogger Maksim Efimov. 
Photo provided to OIA by Maksim Efimov.

Human rights defenders are demanding the termination of the criminal prosecution of Maksim Efimov (Yefimov), author of an article entitled “Karelia is tired of priests”, owing to the absence of any criminal elements in his actions. Experts have come to the unequivocal conclusion that the blogger's criticism concerns the Russian Orthodox Church, rather than Orthodox Christians.

On 17 September an appeal and a petition to this effect were sent respectively to the Prosecutor General and the Petrozavodsk branch of the Investigative Committee.

In his appeal to Yury Chaika, Maksim Efimov's lawyer Ramil Akhmetgaliev, a legal analyst at the Agora Human Rights Association, notes that no restrictions were imposed by the court on the movements of his client, and that the blogger and civil activist is currently in Estonia. Moreover, he said, the Petrozavodsk regional investigative Committee has stated, without grounds, that Efimov is on the wanted list.

According to criminal procedure legislation, the decision to issue a request to extradite a person located on foreign territory can only be taken by the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation. The human rights defenders claim that there is no basis either for issuing such a request or for the prosecution of Efimov in general.

With reference to an assessment by independent language experts, the lawyer stressed that Efimov's material contained no incitement to commit illegal acts and that the subject of criticism was merely a religious organization and its employees. Pursuant to the requirements of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the Constitution of the Russian Federation and the Plenum of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, criticism of a religious organization shall not constitute grounds for criminal prosecution.

Accordingly, on 28 June 2011, the Plenum of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation established that, “Criticism of political organizations, ideological or religious groupings, political, ideological or religious convictions or national or religious customs does not in itself constitute an action aimed at inciting hatred or enmity”.

Timur Radbil, a doctor of philology and professor in the department of modern Russian language at the Lobachevsky State University of Nizhny Novgorod, who has over 25 years’ experience, noted in a written response to Efimov’s article that, “all the statements analyzed are directed solely at the Russian Orthodox Church as a specific organizational structure and in no way concern the rights of all Orthodox Christians” and that the “abusive term 'orthodox brat' and its corresponding predicate ‘cluster together’ refer to those officials in the Orthodox Church who are vested with authority... and who have no relation to faithful Orthodox Christians as a group”.

“Therefore, in the opinion of language experts, Efimov’s material contains no statement directed against ordinary orthodox believers”, notes Ramil Akhmetgaliev. “The Russian Orthodox Church is registered with the Ministry of Justice as a legal entity and has a right to appeal for the protection of its reputation as a matter of civil law. The reputation of the employees of a religious organization is protected in the same way. The protection of a legal entity’s reputation does not fall within the framework of criminal law. The defence team states that the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church is criticized in Efimov’s article in their capacity as public political figures, while the Plenum of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation has stressed repeatedly that public political figures “shall agree to be the subject of social political debate and criticism in the mass media” and “may be criticised with regard to the way in which they undertake their responsibilities, since that is vital to ensure the public and responsible fulfilment of their mandate”.

On the basis of these arguments, lawyers Ramil Akhmetgaliev and Olga Rybalova are asking the Russian Prosecutor General Yury Chaika to reject an appeal by investigators from the Investigative Committee in Petrozavodsk to issue a request to the Republic of Estonia for the extradition of the suspect Maksim Efimov. As regards the Investigative Committee itself, the blogger’s defence team has asked it to terminate the criminal prosecution of the young man, owing to the absence of any criminal element in his actions.