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RUSSIA: Atheist blogger accused of hate speech against the Orthodox Church wins in Strasbourg

Atheist blogger accused of hate speech against the Orthodox Church wins in Strasbourg

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) awarded the head of the Karelian Youth Human Rights Group, Maksim Efimov 10,000 euros as compensation for moral damage. In 2012, the blogger was accused of inciting religious enmity and humiliating the dignity of representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC)/ Moscow Patriarchate for the post “Karelia vs. Pops”. He had been added to the Russian “list of terrorists and extremists.” Read the full judgment.

Yefimov and Youth Human Rights Group v. Russia (nos. 12385/15 and 51619/15)

Registrar of the European Court (07.12.2021) – The applicants, Maksim Mikhaylovich Yefimov, and Youth Human Rights Group, are a Russian national and a Russian non-governmental organisation respectively. Mr Yefimov was born in 1976 and he founded Youth Human Rights Group in 2000 in Petrozavodsk (Republic of Karelia, Russia).

The case concerns the law in Russia providing that an association may be dissolved if it refuses to expel a member who has been suspected of an extremist offence.


In 2011 Mr Yefimov was charged with an extremist offence of hate speech in connection with his publication in which he criticised the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church in public life. Two years later, the Youth Human Rights Group was liquidated for failure to expel from its ranks Mr Yefimov, who had been charged with an extremism offence.


Relying on Article 10 (freedom of expression), Mr Yefimov complains of his prosecution for expressing his views. Relying on Article 11 (freedom of association) the applicants complain of the order to expel the first applicant from Youth Human Rights Group and the order to dissolve the latter.


Violation of Article 10 in respect of the first applicant
Violation of Article 11 read in the light of Article 10 in respect of both applicants


Just satisfaction:
non-pecuniary damage: EUR 10,000 to the first applicant


HRWF Comment

Efimov had posted a short note on the newspaper’s website Zero Hour (Час Ноль), “Karelia is fed up with priests” («Карелия устала от попов»), which read as follows:

“Anti-church attitudes are on the rise in the Karelian capital. Nothing surprising about that. Thinking members of society have realised that the church is also a party in power. The Russian Orthodox Church, just like the [ruling] United Russia party, is fooling people with fairy-tales about our good life while raking in money. Total corruption, oligarchy, and the absolute power of security services are the reasons for a revival of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). Churches in Karelia are being built with public funds while there is no money for basic needs; ROC gets day nurseries for use at a time when childcare facilities are desperately lacking. Bearded men in fancy robes – modern-day ideology instructors – have filled the television screens. They give their opinion on everything, from canalisation to modernisation. All of this makes normal people puke; unable to do anything about the clerical stranglehold, they express their attitude to the ROC’s provincial officials by tagging walls in places where the Orthodox scum hangs out. ‘Pay and pray’, ‘Christ is dead’ [is written] on the walls of the Orthodox Centre in Petrozavodsk … which once was a day nursery.”

With such “an offence”, many people in France, Belgium and other EU countries would be prosecuted for hate speech against the dominant religion.


More incidents and cases of “offending the feelings of believers in Russia” here in Russian and in English with the automatic translation.


Photo : Picture of Maksim Yefimov (Credit: Credo Press)

Further reading about FORB in Russia on HRWF website

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Somalia: Prof. Mahmoud Ahmed-Hamdi, a humanist, is now in hiding outside of Somalia

HRWF (25.06.2020) – On 2 March 2020, Professor Mahmoud Jama Ahmed-Hamdi informed HRWF about alarming death threats targeting him in Somalia. HRWF and Humanists International helped him relocate to a neighbouring country. As he was also a human rights defender, HRWF successfully applied for a grant on his behalf through Prisoners of Conscience.


Professor Mahmoud Jama Ahmed-Hamdi was a university lecturer in Somalia until he was arrested on 21 March 2019 for a Facebook post that authorities deemed to be “blasphemy.” He was then sentenced on 30 April 2019 to 2 1/2 years in prison.


In the Facebook post that led to his conviction in April 2019, Professor Ahmed-Hamdi commented on the need to take a more proactive approach to recurring droughts in Somalia that have been devastating for individuals and the state as a whole. The current strategy to preventing and combatting these droughts is to pray. This was his Facebook post in response to that:

‘The advanced countries make rain but we are still praying to get rain, although despite our prayers we are still suffering every year from drought.

The advanced countries, those we are considering that they are unbelievers and God hates them, live in prosperity even if God hates them. It means that they overcame God by knowledge and using reason.

So, we should learn and base our life on reason and knowledge, not on Myths.’


After spending ten months and seven days in prison, Professor Ahmed-Hamdi received conditional presidential amnesty and was released on 27 January 2020. However, the conditions of his release entailed severe limitations on his freedom.


Threats of violence and death


Professor Ahmed-Hamdi had previously received death threats targeting both him and his wife due to his advocacy for human rights, but now that he has been convicted of blasphemy, he is at risk from both the state and non-state actors.


He had been banned from working as a professor and could not share his thoughts, beliefs or knowledge with anyone in any form; otherwise he risked more jailtime or even the death sentence.


After Professor Ahmed-Hamdi was arrested, an individual sent his wife an email saying: ‘once your husband leaves prison I will kill him.’


Furthermore, Professor Ahmed-Hamdi emailed HRWF on 2 March 2020 about another death threat, one that was of particular concern as it had the potential to incite an entire congregation to violence:

‘In the Friday [28 February 2020] prayer sermon, a preacher called Adam Sunnah spoke about me and demanded to kill me, as he denounced the prison sentence that I spent because he said that the legal ruling that I deserve is murder.


This preacher was imprisoned several times for terrorism, and he was released from prison only four months ago, as we were together in the same prison, but in two different blocks.


In this sermon he speaks in the first half of it about another Somali writer who is now residing in the West, and in the second section starting from minute 28 he starts talking about me in a very provocative way.’


You can find the recording of this sermon here: https://youtu.be/vQNRJS37fq8.


From 2019 until the end of January 2020, HRWF’s Database of FoRB Prisoners in the world only contained one humanist in prison in Somalia: Professor Mahmoud Jama AHMED-HAMDI.



HRWF Comment: Prison sentences for humanists and atheists


Atheists suffer a wide range of penalties and discrimination in many countries today.


Egypt, which was ranked 185th out of 196 countries by the Freedom of Thought Report 2019 of Humanists International, has been the most dangerous place for humanists, atheists and the non-religious in the world as it is the main country where they have been sentenced to prison terms on blasphemy and contempt of religion charges in the last decade.


However, in 2019 and as of June 2020, no atheist or humanist was in prison in Egypt while there are still a Sunni and a Coptic Orthodox in detention.


In June 2014, an appeal court upheld a five-year sentence handed down in absentia to Karam Saber for his short story collection entitled “Where is God?”. The accusations against Saber included: Insulting the divine, writing short stories which call for atheism, defaming divinity, and inciting strife. In his defense, Saber claimed that: “[In the stories], I expose the fake religious discourse and detect the scale of contradictions in a patriarchal society that claims religiousness while it practices the opposite, especially in terms of oppressing women. I pose simple questions that seek God amid all this absurdity we are living in”.


He was said to have violated Article 98 of the Egyptian Penal Code which provides a sentence of six months to five years and a fine of 500 to 1,000 Egyptian pounds [approximately €25 to €50 Euro] for anyone who uses religion to propagate ‘extremist ideas’ to incite strife, insult a monotheistic religion, or damage national unity.


In 2016, Mustafa Abdel-Nabi was charged with blasphemy for postings about atheism on his Facebook page and was ultimately sentenced in absentia to three years in prison.

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