Monthly Archives: March 2021

UK/Council of Europe: Lawyers’ rights need greater protection


Council of Europe - Wikipedia

For years there has been an interesting debate in Europe about whether protections for lawyers’ rights should be strengthened. The Council of Europe (CoE), which covers 47 member states including the UK, is considering whether continuing attacks on lawyers call for a new legal instrument.

In other words, are the CoE’s 2000 recommendation ‘on the freedom of exercise of the profession of lawyers’, R(2000)21, together with the rights embedded in the European Convention on Human Rights, enough to ensure that lawyers do not suffer when carrying out their duties – and suffer they do, as explained below.

Now a new CoE report says that our rights need a new binding convention specifically focused on lawyers. The report is almost unfindable on the CoE website, and labours under the distinctly unappealing title of ‘Feasibility study on a new, binding or non-binding, European legal instrument on the profession of lawyer – possible added-value and effectiveness’.  

Despite this obscurity, and the fact that it is written as a technical report for a technical committee and so not quite up to the excitement of an airport thriller, it turns out to be one of the most useful documents written about the European legal profession for a long time. And it is by an English barrister, Jeremy McBride.

It is useful for many reasons. First, it recites the violence and threats that lawyers face: murder and other assaults; being prevented from meeting clients; communications being monitored and homes and businesses searched; forcing lawyers to act as witnesses against clients; using admission or disciplinary procedures to exclude those whom the authorities consider politically undesirable; and creating bars which are not independent enough to protect members.

Each of these categories is documented with cases. And the report states that it is impossible exactly to quantify the problem, since there is no place in Europe or elsewhere which monitors the position of lawyers alone. Attacks on lawyers are monitored via other collective mandates, such as with human rights defenders or with judges.


Venezuela: Attacks and harassment of Raquel Sánchez


Lawyers for Lawyers is deeply concerned about the safety of Raquel Sánchez, a Venezuelan lawyer, woman human rights defender and coordinator of the Venezuelan NGO Foro Penal, Táchira, a non-governmental organization that provides legal assistance to arbitrarily detained persons in Venezuela. Raquel is also a member of the Grupo de Trabajo Defensoras del Táchira, a group of women defenders who, since 2018, have documented cases of human rights violations in Táchira and provided support for victims. The Latin America focus group of Lawyers for Lawyers spoke with Raquel Sánchez during a video call in which she elaborated on the danger she encounters while performing her job as a human rights lawyer in Venezuela./0

During her career as a human rights lawyer, Raquel Sánchez has faced several attacks by unidentified individuals and public officials, who have pressured her to quit her work as a human right lawyer. For example, in June 2016, Raquel and a colleague, were attacked by three masked individuals while they were driving down a road in the center of San Cristóbal, Táchira State. The individuals struck the front windshield and the front door glass, inflicting wounds to Sánchez’s head. Sánchez had to go to the hospital, but the doctor did not want to give her a report that confirmed the cause of her injuries so that she would not have any material to legally process the case. Furthermore, Sánchez was forced to move several times due to threats she received due to her work as a human rights lawyer. She also received threats at her beauty salon – which she was exploiting besides her work as a human rights lawyer – reason of which she was forced to close down the beauty salon.

Sánchez encounters many difficulties when performing her work as a human rights lawyer because persons in positions of authority in Venezuela are deliberately limiting space for her work. The Venezuelan court has, amongst others, denied Sánchez to access the hearing of her clients and refused to receive evidence unless Sánchez’s clients would change lawyer. It is clear that the Venezuelan court and police do not accept lawyers from NGO Foro Penal. In this regard, Sánchez has experienced that in case a political prisoner asks for a lawyer of Foro Penal, the police tries to prevent this by saying that the prisoner will receive a lighter punishment if the case will not be handled by a lawyer of Foro Penal.

Sánchez has filed multiple complaints before the Public Ministry about fears for her safety. Unfortunately, she continues to be the target of attacks and surveillance, which have intensified during the famous human rights case she is currently in charge of in which she represents the victims of a recent incident of police violence. 


China/Hong Kong: Lawyers in Hong Kong 12 case told to dissolve their firm, banned from leaving Sichuan


The mainland law firm of Ren Quanniu, who was stripped of his license to practice after he was hired to represent one of the Hong Kong 12 jailed in Shenzhen, has been shut down by Chinese authorities and its remaining lawyers ordered to transfer to other firms.

The Henan-based law firm was told to disband by the lawyers’ association in the provincial capital of Zhengzhou, Ren said. Failure to comply would lead to the four remaining lawyers losing their licenses too, he said.

In February, Henan authorities revoked Ren’s license after accusing him of violating the code of practice in a 2018 case in which he represented a Falun Gong practitioner. This came after he was hired by one of the families of 12 Hongkongers captured at sea by the Guangdong coast guard in August last year while trying to sail to Taiwan.

Ren was one of three managing partners at the Henan law firm. After he lost his license, the firm had to appoint a new partner to meet regulatory requirements. That process required the firm to file an application with the authorities, but Henan justice officials have so far refused to process it.

The authorities had breached the law by refusing the firm’s attempt to appoint a new partner, Ren told Apple Daily. The demands to close the firm were “thuggish,” he said.

Ren warned that other human rights lawyers would be targeted in an ongoing crackdown by mainland authorities.


Afghanistan: Prosecutor Atiqullah Dawlatzai gunned down in Paktia province


Atiqullah, son of Muhammad Anwar, a prosecutor in Paktia province, was gunned down at around 17:30 local time on Saturday 27th of March 2021.,in%20the%20city%20of%20Gardez.

Azerbaijan: U.S. Calls For Reversal Of Top Azerbaijani Human Rights Lawyer’s Disbarment


Shahla Humbatova receives the International Women of Courage Award at the State Department in Washington on March 4, 2020.

The United States is calling for Azerbaijani human rights lawyer Shahla Humbatova to be reinstated into the country’s bar association after she lost her membership earlier this month in what she claimed was a politically motivated act.

Humbatova’s “work, and the work of other human rights defenders in Azerbaijan, should be celebrated, not punished, and we call on those responsible to expedite her reinstatement to the Azerbaijani bar,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a March 26 statement.

The prominent lawyer was disbarred on March 5 for failing to pay membership fees of $260 to the Azerbaijani Bar Association.

The lawyer said at the time that the board did not inform her about the debt and she found about her disbarment from the media. She then paid her membership fee immediately.

Humbatova is one of several human rights lawyers to have been disbarred in recent years, leaving few advocates to take on cases in a country renown for cracking down on the media and critical voices.

“We encourage all steps toward systemic reforms in Azerbaijan, especially those regarding the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms — areas that will benefit the Azerbaijani people and create opportunities to deepen our cooperation,” Blinken said in the statement.

Last year, the United States honored Humbatova with the secretary of state’s International Women of Courage Award.

Earlier this month, Freedom House published its 2021 report on global democracy, saying Azerbaijan’s judiciary “is corrupt and subservient to the executive.”

“Although nominally independent, the Azerbaijani Bar Association acts on the orders of the Ministry of Justice and is complicit in the harassment of human rights lawyers,” the report said.

Burma: Rights lawyer Ko Thant Zin Htike violently abducted from home



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The Philippines: Surge in killings of lawyers and judges shows justice system “in deadly danger”


Amnesty International - Wikipedia

The Philippine government must urgently put an end to the surge in often-deadly threats against judges and lawyers, Amnesty International said today, echoing the concerns of the country’s own Supreme Court and Senate this week.

“When the country’s own Supreme Court and Senate are seized of the death toll facing the legal profession, it should be clear to everyone that the situation is disastrous,” said Emerlynne Gil, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director.

“President Duterte continues to incite killings and the climate of impunity across the Philippines is catastrophic, with lawyers and judges increasingly the targets. 

“The justice system as a whole is in deadly danger. The government’s executive branch, led by President Duterte, must take immediate steps to ensure that judges and lawyers are not attacked or threatened simply for doing their jobs”. 

A recent investigative report which included data from the Supreme Court, stated that at least 61 lawyers, judges and prosecutors have been killed under the Duterte administration since 2016. From 2004 to 2021, according to the report, only seven cases have resulted in charges filed in court. 

On 23 March, the Supreme Court of the Philippines issued a statement against these attacks and described them as an “assault on the judiciary”.  

The Supreme Court also pledged to take action, including issuing a call to lower courts and law enforcement officials for information on incidents of threats and killings over the past 10 years. On 24 March, the Senate adopted a resolution also condemning the brazen attacks against judges and lawyers. 

Legal organizations inside the country, including the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), are increasingly sounding the alarm at the attacks and killings of their colleagues.  

Some of those killed or threatened had been ‘red-tagged’ – labelled as “communists” or “terrorists” – as part of the Duterte administration’s widening counter-insurgency campaign, while others were representing clients facing drug-related or other unpopular charges. 


The Philippines: De Lima to Supreme Court: So many lawyers had to die before you spoke


The road to rare SC statement on attacks on lawyers: Threats, killings, and pleas to courts

Senator Leila de Lima says President Rodrigo Duterte is ‘a monster that the SC helped create’

Detained opposition senator Leila de Lima was not so pleased with the rare public statement of the Supreme Court (SC) on lawyers’ killings, saying it came too late.

“It is unfortunate that so many lawyers had to die before the Supreme Court acted,” De Lima said in a dispatched message from Camp Crame on Wednesday, March 24.

The SC, acting en banc or as a whole, issued a rare statement on Tuesday, March 23, condemning killings of lawyers and laying out an action plan to collate reports for 5 weeks, and assess what institutional changes can be made to protect the legal profession.

Based on the last consolidated data, there have been 61 lawyers, judges, and prosecutors killed in the last 5 years of the Duterte administration. This is a disproportionate number because the same data would show 49 lawyers, judges, and prosecutors were killed in a span of 44 years under the presidencies of Ferdinand Marcos to Benigno Aquino III.

There were successive killings in November 2020, and by January 2021 when the SC and the Department of Justice started dialogues, another lawyer died in Bukidnon.


The SC’s rare public statement did not specifically address the surge of lawyers’ killings under Duterte. Its data gathering, in fact, will cover the last 10 years. The statement also did not address the accusation that some state agents are behind the killings and threats.

A study by the Free Legal Assistance Group showed at least 4 of the 61 cases had police as perpetrators. The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers has a pending appeal to the SC for the writ of amparo – a protective remedy – from harassment they claim is from the military.

“We are aware that there are wayward elements who, in their zeal to do what they think is necessary, would simply brush aside the limitations in our law as mere obstacles,” said the SC’s statement, not specifying who the elements are.

“This should never be countenanced, for it is only in the enjoyment of our inalienable and indivisible rights that our freedoms become meaningful,” added the Court.


Statement of CHR spokesperson, Atty Jacqueline Ann de Guia, on the Supreme Court’s courses of action in addressing cases of killings and harassment of lawyers and judges

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Nigeria: Lawyers in Imo suspend court sittings over abduction of colleague


Lawyers, AGF

Lawyers and judiciary workers in Imo suspended court sitting yesterday to protest against the kidnap of a lawyer Barr. Chima Awurum.

Awurum was kidnapped by gunmen last Friday in Mbano/Etiti, Imo.

Secretary of the Imo branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Chinedu Agu, said in a memorandum yesterday that there must be strict compliance with the directive to down tools.

Agu said that the request to suspend court sitting was approved by the Acting Chief Judge on the state, Ijeoma Oguguo and signed by the Chief Registrar, C.N Okereke.

The memorandum read: “The Office of the Chief Registrar, High Court of Imo State, has declared that in  solidarity with the Mbano/Etiti Branch of the NBA, the High Courts and Magistrates Courts will not sit on Tuesday.’’


Belarus: Lawyer Siarhej Zikratski, who defended activists & journalists, disbarred



Authorities intensified their crackdown on dissent in Belarus ahead of planned protests against the nation’s authoritarian president and detained dozens of people Wednesday, according to human rights activists.

The opposition is planning demonstrations Thursday to mark Freedom Day, the anniversary of the country’s 1918 declaration of independence.

Protests have rattled Belarus since the summer, when official results from an August presidential election gave President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office by a landslide. The opposition and some poll workers have said the election was rigged.

The president’s top challenger, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, urged Belarusians to launch a new wave of anti-Lukashenko rallies starting Thursday.

Authorities have banned any demonstrations. The chief of Belarus’ security agency, which still goes by the Soviet-era name KGB, warned against “attempts to destabilize the situation in the country.”

Police detained at least 42 people in 10 Belarusian cities on Wednesday, according to the Viasna human rights center.

Earlier this week, police also arrested Mikalay Kazlou, the leader of the opposition United Civic Party, and Andżelika Borys, head of the Union of Poles of Belarus.

Borys was sentenced to 15 days in jail on charges of organizing an unsanctioned meeting, which her group dismissed as “an act of intimidation of the Polish minority.”

In another move to stifle dissent, Belarus’ Justice Ministry announced Wednesday that it had stripped a lawyer who has defended opposition activists and independent journalists, Siarhej Zikratski, of his license to practice.