Tag Archives: Belarus

Refugee lawyer describes harrowing invasion of Ukraine


A Ukrainian lawyer described the harrowing scenes she witnessed after the Russian invasion, telling an ABA panel on April 7 that she was forced to flee her country with her three young children and leave behind her husband.

Alesya Pavlynska, an employment lawyer at the Ukrainian firm Arzinger Law, described her shock as the first missiles shook Kyiv in the early hours of Feb. 24.

Her husband, Vitalii Shestak, told her and their three kids—Maria, Ivan and Oles—that they would need to take shelter. Pavlynska showed the panel a picture of her children bundled up in a frigid cellar and huddled around their phones.

“It seemed to be unreal and not possible in the modern world—in modern Europe,” Pavlynska said of the moment it dawned on her the invasion was happening.

More than 4.6 million Ukrainians have fled into Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Moldava and Romania. The ABA convened the webinar, “Ukraine’s Refugee Crisis: The Faces of War,” to discuss the ongoing crisis and how its members can help.


ABA President Reginald M. Turner Jr. echoed Pavlynska’s message about the rule of law in remarks prerecorded for the webinar audience, saying the war and crisis had to be viewed through the lens of the “fundamental premise to advance liberty and justice for all.”

“Lawyers believe not in the rule of force, but in the rule of law. We believe that human rights are the bedrock of life and liberty. Our stake in the rule of law compels us to denounce the Russian invasion and rededicate our support of international institutions that promote peace and security,” Turner said.

Advocates urge fast action

Speaking from London, Ukrainian Bar Association President Anna Ogrenchuk said she wants the international community to form a special tribunal to investigate war crimes after documented atrocities in Bucha. Ogrenchuk says it’s likely war crimes have been committed in other parts of the country where the Russian military is present. She urged the American legal community to use its clout to support the tribunal and gather evidence.

“We need your expertise. We need your help in investigating and documenting all war crimes —when the crimes are still been committed,” Ogrenchuk said.

More should also be done to cripple the Russian economy, she added. The UBA has released several open letters, including ones to international companies and businesses operating in Russia and international law firms, legal associations and regulators.

“Every day of war costs Russia about $20 billion, and this money comes from companies who pay taxes in Russia,” Ogrenchuk said. “A full economic embargo is the only alternative to a very long and damaging war in Ukraine.”

There are approximately 60,000 attorneys in Ukraine, and about half of them are women, Ogrenchuk added. She said her bar association estimates that two-thirds of female lawyers have left the country, but women are currently doing the bulk of legal work because many male lawyers have enlisted in the military.



WEBINAR – Lawyers assist Ukraine – 20 April 2022 at 9.30 CET



Russia/Lithuania: Law student Sofia Sapega Goes On Trial In Belarus In Closed-Door Procedure


The Russian girlfriend of a Belarusian opposition journalist who were both arrested when their plane was forced to land in Minsk last year triggering global outrage has gone on trial.

Sofia Sapega could face up to six years in jail if found guilty of charges that include “inciting social hatred” and “violence or threats” against police.

The closed-door hearing began on March 28 in the western city of Hrodna.

Sapega, 24, was detained with Belarusian opposition activist Raman Pratasevich, 26, in May when Belarus scrambled a military jet to force a Ryanair passenger jet flying over its airspace to land in Minsk. Many countries regarded the diversion as a “state hijacking.”

After the plane landed, law enforcement immediately arrested the two, who were flying from Athens to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. They were later put under house arrest.

Human Rights Watch has described the arrests as part of a “purge” of civil society in Belarus by Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Pratasevich faces charges of being behind civil disturbances that followed a disputed presidential election in August 2020, an offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison.






https://www.rtbf.be/article/bielorussie-debut-du-proces-de-la-compagne-de-protassevitch-l-opposant-dont-l-avion-avait-ete-deroute-en-2021-10964228 (FRANCAIS)

https://www.europapress.es/internacional/noticia-arranca-bielorrusia-juicio-rusa-sofia-sapega-pareja-opositor-protasevich-20220328105728.html (ESPANOL)

Belarus: ICJ deplores the continuing reprisals against independent lawyers


Reprisals against independent lawyers in Belarus must end, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said today.

The ICJ calls on the Bar Association of Belarus, the Bar Association of Minsk, and the Ministry of Justice to cease the practice of the use of “re-certification” procedures, disciplinary proceedings, and disbarments as an effective means of reprisals against lawyers for defending the rights and interests of their clients.

“The multiple cases of disbarments or disqualifications of lawyers in Belarus, which have continued since the contested Presidential elections in 2020, are clearly intended to silence independent lawyers who act in accordance with their professional duties”, said Temur Shakirov, Senior Legal Adviser of the ICJ Europe and Central Asia Programme. “Such attacks on the legal profession have a chilling effect and deprive the profession of those lawyers who defend their clients’ human rights guaranteed under international human rights law”, he added.

In the latest case of apparent reprisal, on 27 January 2022, the Ministry of Justice declared Alexander Filanovich to be “incapable” of performing his duties as a lawyer due to “insufficient qualifications.” This decision comes after Alexander Filanovich did not pass certification by the Qualification Commission on 26 January 2022. He later announced via his Facebook page that his license would be revoked within a month. Alexander Filanovich previously served as a lawyer for Sofia Sapega, a Russian citizen detained along with blogger Roman Protasevich in Minsk, after the Belarusian authorities forcibly landed a Ryanair plane flying from Greece to Lithuania.

The ICJ has previously expressed concern over the growing number of disciplinary cases in Belarus, including disbarments of lawyers, particularly those who have represented opposition members, activists, and political opposition. This included the decision to disbar lawyer Natalia Matskevich, who previously represented former presidential candidate Victor Babariko. The ICJ also spoke out regarding the disbarments of Dmitry Layevsky, Aleksey Telegin, Valery Zvyagintsev, Yekaterina Zheltonoga, Andrey Gashinsky, Andrey Mochalov, Mikhail Bondrachuk.




Political Prisoners in Belarus


Belarus: Lawyer Lizaveta Matveyeva loses license


The license of lawyer Lizaveta Matveyeva defended the political prisoners Henadz Mazheika, Uladzimir Matskevich, Ala Lapatka, and Iryna Slaunikava has been revoked, the HRC Viasna reports.

Also, Lizaveta was to defend Pavel Vinahradau, who was detained the other day.

Matveyeva was expelled from the Minsk City Bar for allegedly committing a disciplinary offense. She was summoned for extraordinary re-attestation, but she disagreed and appealed against the re-attestation in court. Because this decision was appealed, she did not appear for the re-certification. Her absence was considered disciplinary misconduct.

The Minister of Justice decided to punish Lizaveta Matveyeva and suspended her license. Yesterday the MSCA Board considered the disciplinary action and decided to expel Lizaveta.


Belarusian lawyer Mikhail Kirilyuk: “We should never stop resisting”


Belarusian lawyer Mikhail Kirilyuk:

5 December was Lawyers’ Day in Belarus. However, the situation of lawyers in Belarus is extremely concerning. They are subject to harassment, intimidation, and improper interference as they try to perform their professional functions and the very independence of the legal profession in Belarus is under threat. To mark this day, we spoke to the Belarusian lawyer, Mikhail Kirilyuk. The defence lawyer for, among others, the detained basketball player Elena Levchenko and a representative of the Coordination Council, he was deprived of his license to practise law. He is now living in exile in Warsaw where we had a call with him.

You left Belarus in October 2020 after receiving a warning from a contact that you faced arrest and revocation of your licence to practice law. You have said that the action against you was “politically motivated” because of who you had represented and of your public critical comments. Can you tell us more about the background?   

“I left about a year ago. The situation in Belarus felt very unsafe. I defended the well-known Belarussian political activist Yury Voskresensky. One time, I visited my client in a Belarusian Committee of State Security (KGB) jail. In conversations with him it transpired that he was tortured. It was hard to talk to him securely in the prison. At the table there was a camera, there was constant supervision which meant that we couldn’t speak freely. I was only able to talk about sensitive matters while walking in the hallways. Afterwards I reported the torture allegations to the media. As a result, I was advised to leave the country. Given the situation of other lawyers it was clear that I had to leave. I left with my children and parents. There were searches in several apartments and offices. It was very difficult, also people who are still living in Belarus and who have been left behind are like hostages to the Lukashenko regime. One never knows what could happen to them.

What is your life like now in Warsaw? You were disbarred in February this year when you were already out of the country. Are you still able to work? Are you still being pursued by the Belarusian authorities?




Belarus: Letter on the sentencing of Leanid Sudalenka


Letter on the sentencing of Leanid Sudalenka

In a letter, Lawyers for Lawyers expresses concern about the recent sentencing of Belarusian lawyer Leanid Sudalenka.

On 5 February 2021, we previously raised concern about his arrest and detention in a joint letter. Mr. Sudalenka is the Chairman of the Homiel branch of the Viasna Human Rights Centre and 2018 winner of the French Republic’s “Liberty- Equality-Fraternity Prize” for his human rights work.

According to our information, on 5 January 2021, officers from the Department for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of the Belarus Ministry of Internal Affairs entered Mr. Sudalenka’s offices with a search warrant. It is alleged that the officers searched the premises in connection with a criminal case that was opened in December 2020 against opposition activist Uladzimir Nepomniashchykh. Mr. Sudalenka was due to appear as a witness in this case.

We understand that Mr. Sudalenka was then taken to the Office for Combating Organized Crime for an interrogation. However, it has been reported that during his questioning he was primarily interrogated about the legal advice provided to those detained, fined and arrested during the post-electoral protests in Homiel. After this interrogation, he was released.

On 18 January 2021, Mr. Sudalenka was detained a second time.

It has been reported that, on 3 November 2021, after a hearing behind closed doors, the Centraĺny District Court of Homieĺ found Mr. Sudalenka guilty of “organizing and preparing actions that grossly violate public order” (Part 1 of Article 342 Criminal Code) and “training and preparation of persons for participation in such actions, as well as their financing or other material support” (Part 2 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code). It has been reported that Mr. Sudalenka was accused of paying for firewood for the children from a large family, whose father was later convicted of “rioting”, appearing in a video on YouTube to explain to a blogger what a people’s protest is, a call on social media to meet a Viasna volunteer after serving 15 days of administrative imprisonment, arranging a seminar on digital security for human rights defenders, payment of fines, court fees, and lawyers’ services. Mr. Sudalenka was sentenced to three years of imprisonment in a general-security penal colony.




IBAHRI keeps spotlight on key issues raised at 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council


With a constantly evolving and fast-paced news agenda, human rights issues do not always make the front page. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) is committed to highlighting human rights abuses across the world and holding those accountable to justice. At the 48th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC48), the IBAHRI joined other non-governmental organisations in statements condemning international human rights violations, with a particular focus on lawyers under attack, facing arbitrary detention or suppression of their professional activities.

Afghanistan: Since the Taliban takeover of the country in August 2021, gross and systematic human rights violations continue to occur in Afghanistan, including attacks against female lawyers and judges. In partnership with a number of other NGOs, the IBAHRI released a joint open appeal to UN Member States to urge the adoption of a resolution creating a Fact-Finding Mission, or other independent investigative mechanism, for Afghanistan. The IBAHRI welcomes the new agreement of the Human Rights Council (HRC) to appoint a special rapporteur on Afghanistan to probe human rights violations by parties to the conflict, including the Taliban, as an important first step towards achieving oversight, accountability, justice and reparation for the ongoing crisis.


Belarus: The legal profession in Belarus is under threat, with attacks against lawyers on the rise. Most recently, Maxim Znak, lawyer for a former candidate for the Belarusian Presidency, was sentenced to a ten-year prison term following a closed-door trial. During the UN Interactive Dialogue the IBAHRI delivered an oral statement on behalf of several NGOs on the human rights situation in Belarus. The IBAHRI condemned the deterioration of the situation on the ground and stressed that the HRC must take action to prevent a further decline. The IBAHRI would welcome full support for the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus through adequate funding, as well as an examination of the situation by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.



In Belarus, Lukashenka’s Government Targets Lawyers And The Legal Profession As A Whole


"Behind every tyrant in history have stood lawyers, prosecutors, and judges who justified his rule and punished his opponents for their supposed crimes," said lawyer Maksim Znak in accepting the International Bar Association Award for Outstanding Contribution to Human Rights.

At the beginning of the month, new government-sponsored amendments to the Belarusian Law on the Bar and Legal Advocacy came into effect that have been widely criticized as intended to impose government control over the legal profession and undermine its independence.

The new legislation comes in the wake of a massive crackdown on lawyers individually in which about three dozen defense attorneys — many defending prominent opposition figures and anti-government activists — have been deprived of their law licenses.

“Lawyers are people who defend citizens from the authorities,” Dzmitry Layeuski, a prominent defense attorney who was stripped of his license in July, told RFE/RL’s Belarus Service. “Now lawyers themselves need defense. But what we see is indifference from the public.”

On October 25, lawyer Natallya Matskevich, whose clients included jailed would-be presidential candidates Viktar Babaryka and Syarhey Tsikhanouski, was expelled from the Belarusian Collegium of Lawyers, the country’s bar association, for unspecified alleged wrongdoing. She was at least the fifth attorney working to defend Babaryka to lose her license.

The government’s targeting of lawyers is part of a massive crackdown on dissent following the disputed August 2020 presidential election that handed a sixth term to strongman leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Thousands of people have been arrested, and most top opposition figures have either been jailed or pushed out of the country.

The European Union, the United States, Canada, and other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka as Belarus’s legitimate leader and have imposed sanctions on him and several senior Belarusian officials in response to the “falsification” of the vote and the postelection crackdown.

However, Minsk’s latest moves include changing the rules of legal accreditation to undermine the already-compromised independence of the Belarusian bar association, with potential long-term effects for the entire country.

Attacking The Defenders?

“The crackdown on lawyers who dare to do their job and assist all those who are arbitrarily detained or otherwise harassed by the Belarusian government is a sign of a severe deterioration of the human rights situation in Belarus, a deterioration that will shape [Lukashenka’s] sixth term in office and beyond,” wrote international rights activist Ewelina Ochab in a column for Forbes in August.

The new amendments to the Law on the Bar and Legal Advocacy were passed in May and took effect on November 1. They restrict which lawyers and law firms are able to take on the defense of clients facing criminal or administrative charges.

All lawyers applying for licenses must be approved in advance by the Justice Ministry and the amended law empowers the ministry to develop and enforce a code of professional ethics for lawyers. It creates a Qualification Commission, under the control of the Justice Ministry. The Justice Ministry now controls the “election” of heads of regional bar associations and has the power to dismiss them. The ministry also has the power to demand any documents from bar associations or individual lawyers.






Belarus: Invitation: seminar and award ceremony 2021 Lawyers for Lawyers Award


Invitation: seminar and award ceremony 2021 Lawyers for Lawyers Award

Lawyers for Lawyers and the Amsterdam Bar Association would like to cordially invite you to join our seminar ‘Resilience of Lawyers in Different European Contexts’ and the presentation of the 2021 Lawyers for Lawyers Award in theatre de Rode Hoed in Amsterdam on Thursday, 18 November 2021, from 15:00 – 17:45 CET (UTC+1).

The theme of the seminar will be introduced by Ybo Buruma (Judge of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands). During the first panel discussion, lawyers from Hungary, Poland, and the United Kingdom will speak from their own experience about the first signs of increasing pressure on lawyers and the context in which this occurs, reflect on the consequences of this for the proper functioning of the rule of law, and share their views on how lawyers in their countries can be supported.

During the second panel discussion, we will reflect on the situation in the Netherlands with representatives from various disciplines, including the legal profession and journalism. We will discuss how to anticipate or respond to (first) signs of increasing pressure on lawyers, but also other professional groups that have effect on the rule of law, and what we can learn from developments in other European countries discussed in the first panel.

Speakers include Baroness Helena Kennedy QC (Director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, IBAHRI), András Kádár (Attorney at law and Co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee), Mikołaj Pietrzak (Dean of the Warsaw Bar Association), Sue Willman (Solicitor and Human Rights Committee Chair of the Law Society of England and Wales), Igna Oomen (Lawyer from the Netherlands), and Peter ter Velde (Security Coordinator NOS and Project Manager Persveilig).

After a speech from the Netherlands’ Human Rights Ambassador Bahia Tahzib-Lie, the 2021 Lawyers for Lawyers Award will be presented to laureates Maksim Znak and Liudmila Kazak from Belarus.





Belarus: Viasna activists Leanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa sentenced to 3 and 2 ½ years in prison


The head of Viasna’s Homieĺ office Leanid Sudalenka and Viasna’s volunteer Tatsiana Lasitsa.

The Centraĺny District Court of Homieĺ announced today a verdict in the criminal trial of Viasna human rights activist Leanid Sudalenka and volunteer Tatsiana Lasitsa.

Judge Siarhei Salouski found Sudalenka and Lasitsa guilty of “organizing and preparing actions that grossly violated public order” (Part 1, Article 342 of the Criminal Code), and “training and preparing persons to participate in such actions, as well as their financing or other material support” (Part 2, Article 342 of the Criminal Code). Leanid Sudalenka was sentenced to three years of imprisonment in a general-security penal colony, and Tatsiana Lasitsa to two and a half years of imprisonment in a general-security penal colony.

On October 13, the prosecutors, Yauhen Fartushniak and Kiryl Vyshniakou, requested three years’ sentences for both activists. Another Viasna volunteer, Maryia Tarasenka, who was on trial in the same criminal case but remain free, was expected to be sentenced to two and a half years in prison. Tarasenka was eventually forced to leave Belarus.

The trial over human rights activist Leanid Sudalenka and Viasna volunteers Tatsiana Lasitsa and Maryia Tarasenka started on September 3 and was held behind closed doors. Sudalenka and Lasitsa have been in custody since January 18 and 21, respectively.

As Sudalenka told in his letters, he was accused of:

  • paying for firewood for the children from a large family, whose father was later convicted of “rioting”;
  • appearing in a video on YouTube to explain to blogger Andrei Pavuk what a people’s protest is;
  • a call on social media to meet Maryia Tulzhankova after serving 15 days of administrative imprisonment;
  • arranging a seminar on digital security for human rights defenders;
  • payment of fines, court fees and lawyers’ services.

Both Leanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa were called political prisoners by the country’s human rights community.