First Department: Stop the harassment of lawyers

13 October 2023

By First Department

Source: First Department

‘Interference in a lawyer’s lawful work or obstruction of this work in any way, is prohibited.

Article 18 of the Federal Law of 31.05.2002 № 63-FZ ‘On the work of Lawyers and the Legal Profession in the Russian Federation’

In Russia, lawyers are being persecuted by the State itself. Their rights under both national and international law are systematically being violated. The authorities are preventing defence lawyers from working, they intimidate them and initiate criminal proceedings against them. At the same time, the lawyer’s status not only does not protect those prosecuted, but often becomes a direct reason for their prosecution.

We remember how law enforcement officers openly persecuted the lawyers of the journalist Ivan Safronov. A criminal case was initiated against Ivan Pavlov, the FSB initiated disciplinary proceedings against Evgeny Smirnov, and Dmitry Talantov has been remanded in custody on charges of ‘incitement to hatred or enmity using his official position’ – meaning his work as a lawyer.

The repressive legislation ‘on discrediting the army’ and ‘military fake news’ is actively being used against lawyers, among others against our colleagues Mikhail Benyash, Edem Semedlyaev and Sergei Makarenko. And in the case of lawyer Maria Bontsler, the police claimed to see ‘discrediting the army’ in her courtroom speeches in defence of those accused of the very same ‘discrediting.’

13 October 2023 will go down in the history of Russian law as a black day for the legal profession. Three of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny’s defence lawyers – Vadim Kobzev, Aleksei Lipster and Igor Sergunin – were remanded in custody charged with participation in an ‘extremist group.’ Their homes were searched, as well as the chambers of Dalet, a Moscow lawyers’ association, of which another of the politician’s lawyers, Olga Mikhailova, is a member. At the same time, in Crimea the home of the lawyer Aleksei Ladin, who defends Ukrainian prisoners of war, Crimean Tatars and those accused of sabotage, was searched.

All these instances, as well as many other sad precedents in the practice of persecution of lawyers, have one thing in common: the state directs its repressive capabilities against defence lawyers in cases where there is a clear political component. As can be seen from the treatment of Navalny’s lawyers, the authorities literally associate lawyers with the activities of which the defendants are charged.

But this is absurd! Defence is not complicity. Lawyers are not the partners or accomplices of their clients, they provide them with defence, the right to which is enshrined in the Russian Constitution. Or is the defence of a person accused of murder already grounds to suspect the defence lawyer themselves of this terrible crime? No, this cannot and should not happen.

This is a gross violation of the very principles of law.

We demand that the State stops its harassment and intimidation of lawyers and the obstruction of their professional activities. Defendants must have the right to a defence, and defence lawyers must have the right to defend them. This should not be hindered by any political considerations.

The First Department human rights project calls on public institutions and persons who are concerned about these developments to sign this appeal. True, we have practically no tools left to stop unlawful activities by the State. However, we can speak out and point out their crimes to the authorities.

Stop the persecution of lawyers! A qualified legal defence may come in handy for you too – those who are now destroying it.

See the New link to the appeal and all signatures.

Translated by Rights in Russia

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