Statement by lawyers and members of the legal community: Lawyers are not foreign agents!

1 March 2022

Source: OVD-Info

We – lawyers and representatives of the legal community – believe that the law enforcement practice of adding lawyers to the register of media ‘foreign agents’ is a development that requires a united response from the bar.

Procrastination will strengthen the situation in which lawyers who receive fees from foreign citizens or from foreign organizations and speak publicly will be under constant pressure. The Federal Bar Association can and should stand up for members of the profession.

In November 2021, two lawyers, Ivan Pavlov and Valeria Vetoshkina, were added to the registry of foreign media outlets that serve as foreign agents (hereafter, the media ‘foreign agent’ registry). The lawyer Valeria Vetoshkina appealed against the Ministry of Justice’s order to include her in the register of ‘foreign agent’ media outlets in Moscow’s Zamoskvoretsky district court. On 9 February 2022 she received the Ministry of Justice’s objections, which stated that she had disseminated information in various media commentaries on cases in which she had acted for the defence and also received foreign funding because she had concluded agreements or contracts with non-profit organizations listed in the register of non-profit organizations performing the functions of a foreign agent (hereinafter the ‘foreign agents’ register).

This was not the first time lawyers have been added to the ‘foreign agent’ list. In addition to Vetoshkina and Pavlov, two other practising lawyers are on the list: Galina Arapova and Maksim Olenichev. These developments demonstrate the discriminatory nature of the ‘foreign agent’ legislation and impede the activities of the professional legal community. The inclusion of a lawyer in the registry calls into question the lawyer’s ability to continue their activities and to represent the interests of their clients in court.

The Russian Constitution and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms guarantee everyone the opportunity to seek legal assistance, including from lawyers. However, we see that in the current situation a lawyer is exposed to risks when cooperating with and assisting organizations recognized as ‘foreign agents,’ as well as when representing the interests of foreign citizens and organizations, as this can bring about inclusion in the ‘foreign agents’ register.

We – lawyers and representatives of the legal community – advocate the complete repeal of the legislation on ‘foreign agents.’ This legislation is clearly discriminatory and unlawful and contradicts both the Constitution and the international obligations of the Russian Federation. It is detrimental to society and to the state.

In this regard, we consider it necessary to initiate a discussion on the legislation on ‘foreign agents’ and its possible repeal, as well as the current application of this legislation, among the wide legal community, including the Federal Bar Association. The current practice of including lawyers and attorneys in the register of ‘foreign agents’ requires a response for several reasons:

1. It violates guarantees of the independence of lawyers;

2. It violates the right to receive qualified legal assistance by adding lawyers and legal professionals to the register of “foreign agents;

3. It threatens the transparency of court proceedings in the context of comments to the mass media;

4. It violates the principle of the equality of arms in legal proceedings;

5. It violates attorney-client privilege;

6. It requires creation of a legal entity and imposes financial pressure;

7. It is a de facto ban on the profession of lawyer.

The problems described above apply not only to lawyers and attorneys already affected. The breadth of wording of the legislation, the lack of transparency in decisions regarding inclusion in the register of ‘foreign agents’ and the specific nature of the work of members of the legal profession put at risk every lawyer and attorney practising in Russia.

We demand, as lawyers and representatives of the legal community:

a) that lawyers included in the media ‘foreign agents’ register – in order to prevent such practices in the future – have representation in the courts and the support of the legal community when appealing against their inclusion in the register. We also demand that the official position of the Russian Federal Bar Association be presented in litigation in order to appeal against the inclusion of the lawyers Ivan Pavlov and Valeria Vetoshkina in the media ‘foreign agents’ register. 

b) that a discussion be initiated regarding the problem of recognizing media lawyers as ‘foreign agents’ and of the associated risks of state interference in the professional activities of defence lawyers, in an open public space with the participation of representatives of civil society and the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation.

c) that based on the results of the discussion, a statement of policy be drawn up, and that an appeal be made to the Human Rights Council to assist in protecting the rights of lawyers.

d) that an appeal be made to the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation and the appropriate bodies to amend law enforcement practice and to prevent lawyers from being assigned the status of media ‘foreign agent’ going forward.

e) that an appeal be made to the State Duma of the Russian Federation to initiate changes in the legislation on ‘foreign agents’ in order to protect lawyers and other representatives of civil society from being included in the ‘foreign agents’ register, and that we be informed of their response.

We call on lawyers and other representatives of the Russian legal community to sign this petition.

For a full list of the 231 signatories of this petition, see here:


Mari Davtyan, lawyer

First of all, our legislation on foreign agents is not compliant with the principle of legal certainty. These are clearly discriminatory laws. The application of these laws to anyone is a violation of human rights, the right to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and the right to engage in professional activities. In itself, this legislation has nothing to do with legality.

This is all the more so, when we talk about lawyers as victims of this unlawful legislation. An independent separate bar is a guarantee of fair trials. It is the professional duty of a lawyer to protect the rights of a person by any legal means, and the lawyer should not face repercussions for this. When we see that a discriminatory law is applied to a lawyer in connection with their professional activities, we can say that this is a violation of their professional rights.

Narek Hakobyan, lawyer, partner at Lex Alliance law firm

I signed this petition because I think that this Law is a gross infringement of the privacy and inviolability of lawyers. I was especially amazed when a number of these ‘exotic’ decisions were made to recognize lawyers as foreign agents. The whole legal system is collapsing. It’s an attempt at total control!

Sergei Lebedenko, journalist, public defender

The foreign agent law is an example of discriminatory law. A law that discriminates without any proper justification, violates the constitutional rights of citizens to freedom of speech, violates the rights of the media and violates the rights of organizations. As we can see, it is enforced in a way that is totally arbitrary. One can become a foreign agent for a donation of $1 or for making a comment to another person if they turn out to be a foreign agent. In other words, enforcement of this law in the proper sense of the word doesn’t exit, it is null and void. At the same time, the law itself also provides a wide space for interpretation, so wide that its existence is simply meaningless. The meaning is only in the discrimination itself and in the difficulties it causes for those professionals who are recognized as foreign agents, including individuals.

The only thing that needs to be done with this law is for it to be completely repealed. If we assumed that the legislature, the executive and the judiciary have a tendency to apply it correctly, it still wouldn’t work, it would still have to be repealed. In this case, it is complete discrimination. It is arbitrarily applied against dissenting, undesirable persons – all the more reason to have it repealed.

Translated by Simon Cosgrove and Tyler Langendorfer

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