Genri Reznik: The forced self-liquidation of Team 29 is another blow to the human rights movement

19 July 2021

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Фонтанка

The association of lawyers, lawyers and journalists known as Team 29 no longer exists. After the organisation’s website was blocked, its staff themselves decided to close it down,as the state authorities had linked Team 29 with a Czech organisation previously recognised as ‘undesirable.’ Lawyers for Team 29, among other things, represent the interests of Russians accused of espionage and treason.

Fontanka asked Russian lawyers to comment on the situation.

Genri Reznik, lawyer, vice-president of the Federal Bar Association, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group and member of the Presidential Council for Human Rights:

First, Team 29 itself is a civil society organisation. Without the formation of a legal entity. The participants were engaged in social activities. That’s Ivan Pavlov’s general inclination. And all this is outside the bounds of the legal profession. If the goal is to hinder the work of a lawyer, then this is all absolute stupidity. Those who participated in the criminal cases of Team 29 did not participate as representatives of a civil society organisation. The liquidation of a civil society organisation is not able to hinder advocacy. 

If this is direct revenge for participation in delicate politically charged trials, then that’s also stupid. Both Ivan and several other lawyers undertook to represent Navalny’s structures. Pavlov is involved in the defence of Ivan Safronov. And if the goal is to remove lawyers from their defence, then pressure on their civil society organisation does not achieve that, except in as far as it sours the mood.

Secondly. self-liquidation is a smart move to prevent negative consequences. The recently passed law is fraught with criminal prosecution for working with ‘undesirables’. In all of Pavlov’s social actions, where he was the driving force, I honestly do not remember any that were purely political. The organisation pointed to defects in legislation and judicial practice, which are quite often very imperfect. All the work of Pavlov and his comrades was still within the framework of human rights activism. And his colleagues work conscientiously on the cases about which people approach them. Many other lawyers could conduct these cases.

Thirdly, is this a problem for Russian human rights activism? I have been a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group since Soviet times. The human rights problems in Russia did not arise today or even yesterday. This is a separate question. But, of course, the forced self-liquidation of Team 29 is another blow to the human rights movement. And evidence of the government project to clean up any public criticism of the state. The situation is on a par with Meduza (recognised as a foreign agent. – ed. Note) and the publication Proekt (recognised as an “undesirable organisation” – Ed. Note). This project is carried out haphazardly, voluntarily, and it’s not always possible to understand why the ban fell on this particular organisation. Here the performers are already beginning to compete with each other in order to curry favour faster. Hence the haste, the way all the most annoying procedures and guarantees are ignored.

Fourthly, it is said that the Team 29 website featured materials from ‘undesirable organisations”. But we don’t know what exactly it is they are talking about. I believe that when there is an appeal in court, the supervisory authorities will be obliged to indicate what kind of ‘undesirable organisation’ is at issue, what kind of harmful action was carried out by Ivan Pavlov’s team that was allegedly  ‘working’ with this alleged organisation.

And fifthly, do you know that I am the chair of the trustees of the Institute of Law and Public Policy (on July 15, the NGO was included in the list of ‘foreign agents’ of the Ministry of Justice – Ed.)? And I can say that some instructions have been given out to clear the field. The general trend is that everyone and everything, even a definite criticism of statehood, should get some kind of assessment. In general, this is all rather sad. Has this happened in history before? We’ve had a lot of different things in our history. But after the formation of the present state, which is democratic and protects human rights, we have not yet had such a clean-up. 

Maksim Olenichev, trial lawyer and the St. Petersburg representative of Team 29

For the past three months, there have been serious attacks on our organisation. At the end of April, there was a search in our office in connection with the criminal case against Ivan Pavlov, which was initiated under Article 310 of the Criminal Code. In addition, a Czech NGO, with which we have no working connection, was declared ‘undesirable.’  In 2015, the leadership of this organization included lawyer Ivan Pavlov. He created it. And he left it, like many others. Pavlov has been a member of the administrations of various organisations, he is a public person. Then on 16th July, our Team 29 website was blocked. From the statement of Roskomnadzor, we saw that the Prosecutor General’s Office associates Team 29, which is not even an organisation, but a project, with that Czech organisation.

According to the law on information, the authorities have the right to decide whether to block the websites and media of ‘undesirable organisations’. Without any court decision, such instructions are passed to Roskomnadzor (the Federal Agency for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media), and also  to internet service providers. Therefore, when on 15th July the Prosecutor General’s Office decided to include the Team 29 website in the register of banned websites, our blocking began on 16th July. We asked our provider for a copy of the details  which they had  received from Roskomnadzor. From this document it became clear that ‘materials of an undesirable organisation are posted’ on our website, although there were absolutely no other materials apart from those which we had created ourselves.

It was decided to close this project for the safety of our supporters, since law enforcement practice in Russia is such that it is almost impossible to minimize the risks to  our supporters (participation in the activities of an undesirable organisation in the Russian Federation is a criminal offence. – ed. ). We have seen cases of administrative offences brought after the reposting of materials of organisations that the state considers ‘undesirable.’ Despite the fact that Team 29 itself is an independent project, which does not depend on anyone, neither on the Czech organisation, nor on any others, nevertheless, in order to avoid negative consequences in the future, it was decided to discontinue its work. We thought that in such conditions it was too risky to continue our  activities. It is better to prevent risks. We do not know whether or not the risks are real, but it is better to avoid provocation.

In our official statement, we indicated that we plan to appeal the decision to include the Team 29 website in the register of banned sites. But we haven’t started that action yet. We have responsibilities to our beneficiaries and individual commitments related to the defence of our clients. Right now, we are negotiating the continuation of this work, or its completion. So far, not one of the clients of our lawyers and legal professionals has refused our services.

Anna Stavitskaya, lawyer and recipient of the Moscow Helsinki Group Prize

The answers seem obvious here. But the thought that it will soon be difficult to state the obvious – to say white is white and black is black – is also harmful… Of course, such actions by the authorities (searches against lawyers, blocking their websites. – ed.) result in the authorities making things worse for the state itself.

Team 29 was committed to helping people. For me, the idea that such activities can somehow harm the state is rather strange . On the contrary, they help. People need them, which is the most important thing. But now people are divided into those who are useful to the state and those who are ‘undesirable.’

Where does this lead? I do not like to speculate, but like any aware citizen, I feel uneasy literally every day. You start to be afraid to turn on the news. I saw a meme today that I really liked. “After reading the news, you need to watch a horror movie to relax.”

Will the defendants in the prosecutions on which Ivan Pavlov’s team work continue lose their lawyers? There are many practising lawyers in Team 29. They can continue their activities just as lawyers. The team contained, apart from lawyers, journalists and other specialists, will no longer exist. The team of like-minded people who managed to work interestingly and effectively on a number of issues, will no longer exist. Support from the media is very important to lawyers. Now, each lawyer will work on their own case without being a member of the team. Maybe they will be called something different later.

It’s too early to despair. There is no sense in crying . You need to dust yourself off and move on. It is difficult to do our profession. But there is nothing else you can do. That’s just how it is. You have to work in these conditions. I know Pavlov personally, I love him. What is happening is very disturbing, to put it mildly. But Ivan is not someone to despair. I am sure that he will also shake this off and will continue to move forward. I hope he does. 

Translated by Anna Bowles, Graham Jones and James Lofthouse

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