A Karelian blogger charged with inciting hatred for criticizing the Russian Orthodox Church has gone missing, after a court ordered he be sent to a psychiatric hospital for an examination, vesti.karelia.ru said on Thursday.
Blogger Maxim Yefimov, also the chair of Youth Human Rights Group Karelia, has not been answering his phone or mail since Monday, investigators in the Russian investigation committee and the rights association Agora said.
On May 12 the court ordered Yefimov to be put into a clinic for psychiatric testing from May 23. His lawyers expressed concerns their client would be left in the hospital indefinitely, and appealed the ruling on Wednesday, citing testiment from recognized psychiatric experts that he was in perfect health.
Investigator Alexander Voronin, who opened the case against Yefimov, is now seeking to put him on a wanted list.
Voronin said he last met Yefimov on May 14 when Yefimov and his lawyer Olga Rybalova signed a summons obliging the blogger to turn up in the Russian investigation committee’s Karelia office on May 23.
Voronin also said Rybalova had told him on May 21 over the phone that Yefimov had a cold and was staying at home, but on May 22 she said she lost contact with him.
Rybalova declined to comment. Yefimov's other lawyer Ramil Akhmetgaliyev was also unavailable for comment.
In December 2011, Yefimov published an article entitled Karelia Tired of Priests on the internet. The article was full of allegations of corruption in the church, including claims the church used budget funding for construction and renovation of churches, and that church organizations were occupying buildings in badly needed nursery schools in the region.
Viktor Rossypnov, head of the Karelian investigation committee, accused Yefimov of seeking media attention by claiming he might be forced into a psychiatric hospital.
“His statements are not based on any evidence and are absurd, because by law a person who has committed a minor offense in a state of insanity is free from any criminal punishment, and … therefore no forced hospital treatment is ordered,” he said.
Human rights activists have condemned Yefimov’s prosecution.
“There are no reasons to commit Yefimov to a mental hospital," said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of Moscow Helsinki Group, a human rights monitoring body. “This is an old Soviet practice: people undesirable to the authorities are pronounced mad. It is absolutely illegal."
Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin said he hoped nothing bad had happened to Yefimov.
“If he is an honest and law-abiding citizen, he does not need to avoid justice,” Chaplin told RIA Novosti.
Chaplin also warned against using psychiatric examination as a means of punishment and added: “It is the investigators’ job to establish the truth.”
As for Yefimov’s article about corruption in church organizations, Chaplin said it was normal for the state to fund restoration of churches as architectural treasures.
Chaplin dismissed Yefimov’s description of the Russian Orthodox Church as a party of power like United Russia.
“Religious organizations are not bodies of power, the same as the government is not a religious organization,” he concluded.