30 April 2021
In the photo: Genri Reznik, lawyer, vice-president of the Russian Federal Chamber of Lawyers, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and member of the Presidential Human Rights Council
On the morning of 30 April, searches were conducted with regard to the well-known Russian lawyer Ivan Pavlov, director of Team 29, a group of lawyers working on high-profile criminal cases. Lawyer Pavlov and his colleagues were to be defending the Anti-Corruption Foundation [FBK]* in an extremism case. Right now, Pavlov is being questioned by the Investigative Committee. We already know that the searches were connected to the case of journalist Ivan Safronov, who is accused of high treason. According to Pavlov himself, a criminal case has been opened against him for disclosing facts of the investigation, and under this article he is threatened with up to three months’ arrest and disbarment. We discussed why the state has decided to fight Pavlov with the lawyers Ilya Novikov, Evgeny Smirnov, and Genri Reznik.
Anton Zhelnov: Ilya, good afternoon again! We have just heard Ivan Pavlov, who said that, basically, the disclosure of a secret of an investigation is merely the fact that he said a criminal case was being opened against Safronov, as I understood him, he was one of the first, evidently, to talk about this and point to a certain secret witness. Does this really constitute disclosing secrets of an investigation? How can this be classified?
Ilya Novikov: Let’s start with who Ivan Pavlov is. Actually, here in Russia he is known primarily because he periodically turns up as a defence lawyer in very high-profile cases, primarily cases of the kind conducted by the FSB [Federal Security Service], that is, espionage, high treason, and so forth.
But, more generally, he is a very important person for the lawyer community in Russia. He is a person who we can probably call one of its trade union leaders. Lawyers don’t have a trade union as such, but he has done a great deal to organize a kind of internal discussion inside the legal profession, which behaves fairly passively regarding many things or takes the position that the legal profession cannot be politicized, that lawyers have different opinions, so there’s no point discussing politics. But when you say that there’s no point discussing politics, you come very close to saying that in principle we shouldn’t discuss the authorities’ actions.
Ivan was someone who did — and why did he? He is someone who is extremely important with regard to all these trials and with regard to communication within the legal profession. Therefore, it is important how the legal profession conducts itself right now above all. There is already a letter — I, among others, have signed it, and it is open for signature by other lawyers — about how to render Ivan maximum support, which goes beyond the bounds of what the legal profession is obligated to do for any member who is being prosecuted.
This is about investigative secrecy, something which investigations in Russia abuse tremendously, moreover with the courts’ sufferance. It is the courts that are supposed to be the final arbiter and decide what can and can’t be called an investigative secret. Nonetheless, the investigation is inclined to abuse this, especially in cases being conducted by the FSB, and where there is that as yet faint aroma of secrecy, it instantly permeates literally everything it touches, any page that lies in the same volume with another page on which there was something secret, now this nonsecret page becomes secret as well and gets added to this concept of investigative secret.
From the standpoint of common sense, an investigative secret is that which, if disclosed, could materially harm the progress of an investigation. For example, a lawyer learned from an investigator that somehow suspicions were being readied there – let’s say, he’s defending Ivanov – but he learned that there were suspicions and an arrest being readied against Petrov. He mentioned this, and Petrov heard about it and fled. This is a situation where one might say that the lawyer inflicted material damage to an investigation.
When a lawyer publicly announces, moreover, that an investigation has been frozen, as it’s put, and is refusing even to announce the essence of the charge or the essence of the suspicion, and the lawyer discloses what this essence consists of, or when the lawyer announces what means of pressure in principle are being applied to his client, what secret witnesses, what classified witnesses — these after all are also widely practiced in Russia, though they should not be so widespread, but they can also function as a means of pressure.
A lawyer not only can but must, in certain cases, speak about these things, and the fact that Ivan, as he has just commented, if this is all there is to this case, then naturally Ivan is absolutely right and the investigation is absolutely wrong.
Kogershyn Sagieva: Yes, Ilya, stay with us for now. We would like to bring in Evgeny Smirnov, a lawyer from Team 29, who we also have on a line to the studio. Hello!
Evgeny Smirnov: Good afternoon!
Sagieva: Can you tell us what is happening right now? I read – we just read on the Team 29 Telegram site – that Ivan Pavlov is being taken to court for a hearing about pre-trial restrictions.
Zhelnov: To the Basmanny district court.
Sagieva: Are there any details?
Smirnov: They are not taking him yet, they only told him after the interrogation was over: “Get ready, we are taking you to the Basmanny district court, where our petition will be considered.” At the same time, they did not say what kind of petition. We assume of course that it’s related to some form of pre-trial restriction.
Zhelnov: Evgeny, tell us how all this happened this morning. Ivan Pavlov was staying in a hotel in the centre of Moscow, and they came straight to do the search, right?
Smirnov: Yes, we spent the night in that hotel, our rooms were next to each other. You know, I didn’t even hear them coming to him; that is, I learned about what had happened from his wife, who called me at 6:40 in the morning and said that they were pounding on her door, trying to break it down and saying that they had come to conduct a search. After that, I went out into the corridor and found that it was full of FSB operatives.
Subsequently, I managed to talk with Ivan. He said that they opened the door to his room with some kind of service key and he was actually woken by them already being in his room, so he had no way of contacting anyone, nor could he do anything else.
Sagieva: Stay with us. Ilya, one last question for you. You hear what we are discussing now: they broke into the office, and now they’re taking him to the Basmanny district court. How do you assess what is happening? It’s unprecedented. What does an illustrious lawyer make of it…?
Novikov: Look, this is not unprecedented, there have been such cases with lawyers before. But precisely because Ivan is Ivan, a person who is very important for the legal community as a whole, I expect that what will happen now is simply that a broad front will be presented. Lawyers have such wonderful methods of mutual assistance, yes: we can come to defend our colleague not one, not two, not three, but fifty lawyers. I am now in Kiev, and in Kiev they do this quite often. When one lawyer is at gunpoint, others cover him.
I really hope our community will show solidarity here, because, indeed, Ivan is an important person and it is quite clear that his prosecution is connected with the fact that he has honestly and straightforwardly performed his duties as a lawyer.
Zhelnov: Thank you! That was Ilya Novikov, a lawyer and colleague of Ivan Pavlov, speaking to us. We return now to Evgeny Smirnov, and Genri Reznik will be up next. Evgeny, I have another question. What do you think, can you figure out why all this happened this morning, in a Moscow hotel room where Ivan Pavlov was staying, and in St Petersburg in the Team 29 office, and in Pavlov’s wife’s apartment?
Smirnov: You know, I have only been able to understand this on a legal level so far. Ivan managed to get the information to me that a criminal case has been initiated. It has been published on my webpage. It says there that this case is connected with the fact that at the end of last year Ivan published a decision about the prosecution of Ivan Safronov, whom he is defending. You know that all this is, you could say, the official tip of the iceberg, since threats from the FSB, from their Investigative Directorate, have been constantly coming at us for several years now. They’ve threatened our clients and their relatives, and some investigators have said straight out that they’d send us to prison for interfering with their work which is, as they see it, to defend our homeland from spies.
Sagieva: We have been joined by the advocate Genri Reznik. Genri Markovich, hello!
Genri Reznik: Hello!
Sagieva: How do you assess what has happened? Could it be that an experienced advocate with more than twenty years of dealing with treason cases would disclose the secrets of an investigation?
Reznik: You know, I would pose the question a bit differently; after all, I am the vice-president of the Federal Bar Association and head the Commission on the Defence of Advocate Rights. What a concrete person could or could not do is always uncertain. I can tell you that the community of advocates is upset with this entire situation. Article 310 is relatively murky, and it is never clear exactly what is meant by the concept “information from the preliminary investigation that is not subject to disclosure.”
Successful criminal charges against advocates have been very few. Exactly two years ago I was able to defend the advocate Dvoriak from Khakassia, the case made it up to the Supreme Court, and in the end, he was fully exonerated. And I don’t know of any cases where, under this article of the law — which is not punishable by a prison sentence, where the most severe punishment is three months in detention — the investigation began with officers coming to the advocate with a search warrant that then served as the basis for conducting mass searches.
Therefore, I assess the actions of the preliminary investigation, on the one hand, as an act of intimidation. On the other hand, it’s a well-known habit of our Pinkertons to use the not particularly legitimate instigation of a criminal case in order to conduct mass searches in the hopes of finding something. Therefore, I am inclined to say that it is an act of persecution that truly … (unintelligible.) Which is politically motivated. That’s my assessment.
Zhelnov: Genri Markovich, I have this question for you. Does the Bar Association need to perform its own professional assessment of Pavlov’s statements or is it totally clear that there couldn’t have been any violation of investigation secrecy?
Reznik: I don’t know what assessment. I am pretty skeptical about all these assessments because they are, in general, a profanation of scientific investigations, scientific knowledge, especially all these linguistic assessments. But that is a separate conversation. Read Krongauz, “The Russian Language on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.”
I want to say to you, the way I see it, the way it seems to me, is that it couldn’t be anything else – information about the preliminary investigation, some information on the specific circumstances of the act committed that the lawyer became acquainted with in the course of the investigation’s actions. Then, when it is announced only that a case has been brought, questioning has been conducted. an action that qualifies under a particular article, this by definition cannot be considered information from the preliminary investigation.
I cannot comment any more on this, because I am not participating in the case. (Unintelligible). If Ivan himself wishes it and submits a request to the bar associations – he is a member of the St. Petersburg Bar Association – and to the Federal Bar Association, we of course will study the entire case and professionally determine how we can support him in this case.
What concerns me is that they took him to court! Why? That’s what isn’t clear to me now. I think they took him there to choose pre-trial restrictions, but to only choose between two types of restriction; we could say three, but the third is practically dead. These are: being remanded in custody, house arrest, both of which are by definition absolutely not applicable, and bail, which is also not applicable. Therefore, it seems to me absolutely out of place.
Sagieva: I have now read that, according to the Russian Information Agency (RIA), no request from the investigator for a pre-trial restriction to be imposed on the lawyer has been received. That’s all we know up to now.
Reznik: I can tell you that if there has been no request of this kind, then the investigators have decided not behave in a totally arbitrary manner but to take into acount, probably, the requirements of the Criminal Code, because no forms of pre-trial restriction are applicable to him in this particular case. I don’t know, if it is possible to impose travel restrictions, but this would be ridiculous.
Sagieva: How else is he at risk? Could he now be stripped of his legal status?
Resnik: Well, the point is this: at first, the investigation under the Department of Justice, in both St. Petersburg and Moscow, asked that not only Ivan Pavlov, but also other lawyers, members of his team or those who participated in the defence of such espionage cases, be subjected to disciplinary measures. Actually, this alleged violation was that they had refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
So, I must say that both we and our St. Petersburg colleagues, the Qualification Commission, simply replied that, unlike the signing of an official secrets declaration, a lawyer is not required to sign off in relation to non- disclosure of classified information in a preliminary investigation. There is no such compulsion on them. Please, lawyers, I beg you, do disagree with the investigation team on this point.
I must say that when lawyers are requested to sign such a document, as has happened to me on more than one occasion, I did not sign it, I asked for clarification, not only for me, but for the whole legal profession, “What information do you think, is actually classified?”
Sagieva: So you don’t see any violations on his part, he acted within the law.
Reznik: Absolutely… They did not suffer any disciplinary measures. Now I can tell you what risks Ivan faces. Just imagine that if he is found guilty of this crime, he won’t get anything worse than a fine. But this will be a pretext for striking him off from the legal profession, because a conviction for any premeditated crime represents undoutbedly a basis for the termination of one’s registration as an advocate. He is in serious danger.
Sagieva: Genri Markovich, thank you for sharing your point of view. We also have on the line Evgeny Smirnov, a lawyer from Team 29. Evgeny, do you have the same view of this situation? Could you comment on what might happen next?
Smirnov: I absolutely agree with Genri Markovich, as for the matter of signing an agreement in the case of Ivan Safronov, I am personally a member of the defence team for Ivan and I can say that, as regards his signing of a non-disclosure concerning the preliminary hearing which they tried to elicit from Ivan Pavlov, the information which he cannot disclose is defined in that agreement, and the information he reported to the media does not fall under this category. Therefore, in this case I personally do not see any violations by Ivan Pavlov.
*According to a ruling by the Russian Ministry of Justice, the Anti-Corruption Foundation is included in the register of NGOs performing the functions of a foreign agent.