A lawyer associated with Ivan Matsitsky, a senior Russian Scientologist who has been held in jail for over 18 months, has expressed concern over his continued incarceration after three appeals judges decided to send the case back to the Russian authorities for further investigation until May.

The judge’s decision comes just over two months after the St Petersburg City Court postponed an appeal filed against Judge Yevgeny Isakov by Matsitsky’s defence lawyer.

The court’s decision was condemned by Willy Fautre, Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, a Brussels based NGO, who says that Matsitsky is detained on what appears to be “falsified” evidence.

The affair is being played out against a backdrop of the Russian “extremism law” which is said to be repeatedly “used and abused” by the Russian authorities to persecute non-Russian Orthodox minority religions and their members.

In September 2018, Matsitksy was classified as a prisoner of conscience by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan federal government entity based in Washington.

Ivan Arjona-Pelado, President of the European Office of the Church of Scientology for Public Affairs and Human Rights commented:

“While it is obvious for the most that Russian Scientologists are honest and valuable contributors to Russian society, the misuse of the extremist law by some authorities in Russia is extremely concerning, and hope to find a proper dialogue that helps ending very unfortunate and unfair situation. Scientologists, including Ivan Matsisky and the four scientologists that are wrongly charged with him, are very active in Russia to help authorities tackling drug problems, for example. But with these blatant violations of their fundamental rights by the Russian justice system, it brings water to the mill of those who want to criticize Russia. My main concern is that these people are good people, and they are now separated from their families and friends for more than one and half year now, languishing in jail, without any valid reason, for the sole reason of their commitment to their genuine faith.”

Yevgeny Tonkov, the author of dozens of books and articles, has joined HRWF in condemning the continued detention of Matsitsky.

In an interview with HRWF, Tonkov said he was disappointed that the appeal judges did not have “the courage to render a fair decision.”

“The judge (Isakov) pretended that he did not see the falsification of the investigator, forbade me to ask questions to the investigator and refused to give an assessment of the most important facts in the case,” Tonkov said, before adding, “He ruled to extend the arrest without taking into account the specific legal facts of the case and refused to check the investigator even after my statement about the falsification of the facts.”

“When the term of keeping Matsitsky in custody reached the maximum limit, the investigator did not want to release him from custody,” added Tonkov

Russian law stipulates that a person can only be held in pre-trial detention beyond the legal limit if the investigation has been completed and the accused, as well as their lawyers, have been given a 30-day advanced warning about the end of the investigation and its conclusions; the materials of the criminal case have been presented to the accused person and his lawyers at least 30 days before the end of the maximum period of detention; and if 30 days was not enough for the accused and their lawyers to familiarise themselves with the case.

“The investigator provided the judge with a falsified document when all these three circumstances occurred.” said Tonkov, adding “The most basic lie was that the investigator reported that he had presented the materials of the criminal case to Matsitsky and his lawyers.”

“The criminal procedure law explicitly states that if at least one of the above three facts or events did not occur, the court must release the accused,” said Tonkov.

Few who have been following the case believe the judge or the Kremlin-appointed investigator will be punished for their violations of due process.

“I doubt that the punishment will overtake them, as the judge has hidden the violations of the investigator and the chief judge hides the violations of his own. This is called “collective responsibility”, which leads to a complete failure of the justice system.”

Tonkov believes that, like Isakov, the three appeals judges who reviewed the case on December 6, “are afraid” of Russia’s modern-day feared successor to the Soviet era KGB – the FSB.

“It seems that almost all judges in Russia are afraid of the FSB. The violation of the Criminal Procedure Code of the Russian Federation by Judge Isakov is obvious and scandalous.”

This content is part of the ‘Religious Freedom’ section supported by the Faith and Freedom Summit Coalition