Russian authorities must immediately withdraw their motion to disbar lawyer Ivan Pavlov and stop their harassment of the lawyer as a result of his professional duties, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said.
“The multiple attempts to disbar Ivan Pavlov send a clear signal to lawyers in Russia that their independence is at serious risk” said Roisin Pillay, Director of the ICJ Europe and Central Asia Programme.
“The pattern of harassment by authorities is designed to deter lawyers from representing clients in certain high-profile cases. But international standards protect the independence of lawyers and stipulate that lawyers should never be identified with their clients’ causes”.
The ICJ calls on the authorities of the Russian Federation to withdraw the motion against Pavlov to ensure that he does not face adverse consequences for diligently carrying out his professional duties and that he continues to freely exercise his profession.
On 20 September, the St Petersburg Department of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation submitted a motion to initiate disciplinary proceedings against Ivan Pavlov seeking his disbarment. No alternative measures were suggested by the Ministry.
The ICJ is concerned that the grounds of disbarment threaten Ivan Pavlov’s freedom of expression and seek to penalise him for the representation of his client. By way of example, one of the grounds for disbarment cited by the Ministry of Justice is that by giving interviews to the media he carried out “an attempt to put pressure on the investigation and the court by unilaterally submitting information to the media and presenting the public with distorted data on the investigation of a criminal case”.
Among the other grounds for the disbarment sought by the Ministry of Justice are failure to attend investigative actions, an alleged unwarranted transcription of state secret information from a case file, and presidency of an NGO recognised by the authorities as “undesirable”.
Pavlov rejects these allegations as unsubstantiated or factually incorrect.
Previously, in 2020, the Ministry of Justice sought disbarment of Ivan Pavlov and appealed the refusal of the St Petersburg Bar Association to disbar him. On 30 September, the Kuibyshev District Court terminated the proceedings, as the Ministry of Justice withdrew the suit. Yet, the key points from these proceedings were used in the new motion seeking Pavlov’s disbarment submitted on 20 September.
The treatment of Ivan Pavlov and Team 29 exemplifies the risks human rights defenders are taking
Lawyers who act for those the state deems its enemies cannot expect a comfortable life in any country, but in Russia their persecution has reached a pitch that demands international attention. The FSB — the state security apparatus — is engaging in forms of harassment that prevent them from defending clients charged, often on dubious evidence with “subversive” activities. In an attempt to chill political protest in the lead-up to elections later this month, the FSB has used powers of arrest and prosecution to stop lawyers from doing their duty to defend politically-motivated prosecutions.
Take the attack on the distinguished human rights advocate, Ivan Pavlov. Pavlov led “Team 29” — an informal association of lawyers that took its name, ironically, from Article 29 of the Russian Constitution, which purports to guarantee free speech. Team 29’s latest offence has been to represent Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation in its appeal against its designation as an “extremist” organisation, which in effect closed it down. This summer, Team 29 was forced to disband, after a government accusation that it was associated with an “undesirable foreign organisation” — an accusation that allowed the state to block its website and, potentially, to move against individual team members, clients or supporters.
In April, the authorities moved to prosecute Pavlov himself, having raided his home and office and seized his files and electronic devices. His alleged “crime” had been to release to the media the charge sheet against one of his clients, Ivan Safronov, a former journalist accused of treason for supposedly passing on government information. Pavlov was accused of publishing “confidential information” and his bail conditions prevent him from communicating with anyone by telephone, internet or mail. He has now fled to Georgia.
A number of Russian human rights lawyers courageously joined a protest against the prosecution of Pavlov, describing it as an attempt at “intimidating the legal community and turning it into an obedient and state-controlled organisation.” The forced disbandment of Team 29 emphasises the threat now facing all lawyers in Russia who act for organisations that seek justice for human rights violations and have connections with foreign groups.
Where can they look for support? Not to the Kremlin-controlled parliament, which churns out a web of laws against peaceful oppositionists, and not to the office of President Putin who may, by a recent constitutional amendment, stay in power until 2036. The judges should be their protectors, but Russian judges convict more than 99 per cent of defendants. Law enforcement and security agencies, including the FSB, can punish an acquittal with an investigation and a request to strip the judge of their status. Such requests are almost always granted, by other members of the judiciary.
One of Russia’s top human rights lawyers, who is representing jailed journalist Ivan Safronov, has left the country after the authorities opened a case against him for allegedly disclosing classified information about his client’s case.
Ivan Pavlov wrote on Telegram on September 7 that he was in Georgia as “restrictions imposed on me over the probe have gradually made my work impossible.”
“I was barred from using communication tools and the Internet, talk to my clients and some of my colleagues. In general, I was forbidden from doing the things that a lawyer needs to do to be effective. The bans were not related to one thing only — the possibility to leave the country. That was a sign showing the way out,” Pavlov wrote, adding that he plans to return to Russia in the future.
Pavlov became a suspect in a criminal case on the disclosure of data with regard to Safronov’s case in April. He has rejected the accusation, calling it politically motivated.
Safronov, a former adviser to the head of Russia’s space agency Roskosmos and a one-time journalist, was arrested and charged with high treason in July 2020 on allegations that he had passed secret information to the Czech Republic in 2017 about Russian arms sales in the Middle East.
Safronov has rejected the accusations against him and many of his supporters have held pickets demanding his release, saying that all case materials have been deemed classified as part of the cover-up.
Russian authorities have launched a massive crackdown on dissent in recent months, jailing dozens of opposition members, activists, and regular citizens under the guise of charges widely considered to be falsified.
She faced the possibility of not leaving her home at night between the hours of 10pm and 6am, the inability to change her residence without notice, attend mass or other events, and travel outside Moscow and the Moscow region without informing the authorities and obtaining permission.
The lawyer said the case and the charges leveled against her were politically motivated.
Navalny’s aides under pressure as election looms
As one of the most well-known in Navalny’s circle, Sobol was also one of the few among his allies who had not yet left Russia out of fear of prosecution.
After she received a suspended sentence that put great restrictions on her freedom but had yet to come into effect this month, she told Ekho Moskvy, “Essentially, you can interpret this as the possibility of leaving the country.”
The Federal Chamber of Lawyers has turned to Chairman of the Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin in connection with the attacks on lawyers in Khakassia and the Khabarovsk Krai, the press service of the body informs RAPSI.
The letters sent to the head of the Investigative Committee contain a request to check and take the measures provided for by law on the facts of attacks on lawyer of the Chamber of Lawyers of the Republic of Khakassia Oleg Lytkin and lawyer of the Chamber of Lawyers the Jewish Autonomous Region Alexander Pecheritsa. The regional lawyers’ chambers came out in defense of the lawyers and applied for support to the federal Chamber, according to the RAPSI’s interlocutor.
The first incident, referred to in the letter to Bastrykin, took place on July 30 in Abakan: three unknown persons beat the lawyer of the local chamber Oleg Lytkin and punctured two wheels of his car. The appeal also mentions the second incident – the use of physical force against lawyer of the Chamber of the Jewish Autonomous Region Alexander Pecheritsa. The federal Chamber notes that the attacker, an inspector of the regional traffic police, used physical force against the lawyer at the moment when he was trying to provide legal assistance to his client.
The attacked lawyers allege the attacks were related to their professional activities. The regional chambers appealed to the investigating authorities, however, it has not yet been possible to ensure that the rights of the lawyers were protected, the federal Chamber notes.
On 19 July 2021, the Moscow City Court rejected Ivan Pavlov’s lawyer’s appeal and left the restriction measures against the human rights lawyer unchanged. Ivan Pavlov has been under criminal investigation since April 2021, when he was accused of “disclosure of the data of a preliminary investigation” relating to one of his clients, former journalist Ivan Safronov. On 16 July 2021 Roskomnadzor blocked the website of the human rights lawyer’s organisation, Team 29, based on a request from the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation. According to the notification of the Prosecutor General’s Office, they identified Team 29 with an NGO called Společnost Svobody Informace registered in the Czech Republic, which is included in the list of undesirable organizations. Based on this, the Team 29 members were forced to suspend the work of the organisation in order to protect its team who may be targeted because of the connection with the “undesirable” organization.
On 19 July 2021, the Moscow City Court rejected Ivan Pavlov’s lawyer’s appeals against the decision of the Basmanny District Court of Moscow and left the restriction measures against Ivan Pavlov unchanged, even though more than 40 lawyers filed complaints against the previous decision of the Court and 18 lawyers were in the Court hearings on 19 July. Pavlov’s lawyers provided the Court with more than 500 sureties/guarantees for Ivan Pavlov from Russian writers, professors, media workers, politicians and human rights defenders. More than 35 lawyers signed a petition demanding to stop the prosecution of Ivan Pavlov.
Ivan Pavlov is a prominent human rights lawyer and director of Team 29, an association of lawyers and journalists. His legal work focuses on defending those wrongly accused by the security services of disclosing state secrets, high treason, or espionage. He has also been working to ensure public access to government information, and with this aim founded the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information which was designated as a “foreign agent” by the Russian authorities in 2014. In 2015, Team 29 was established to provide consultation and legal aid to individuals asserting their right to receive and distribute information, defend victims abused by law enforcement and security agencies, provide recommendations on how to respond to searches, interrogations, arrests, etc. Ivan Pavlov has also contributed to the development of Russian legislation on the right to freedom of information. He received the Moscow Helsinki Group Award for defending human rights in court in 2015 and the Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism in 2018, awarded by Human Rights Watch to activists who put themselves at great risk to protect the dignity and rights of others.
An increasing number of Belarusian attorneys have seen their law licenses removed for trying to defend opposition figures.
Sitting in her car and talking via an encrypted video link on her smartphone from Minsk, disbarred lawyer Liudmila Kazak said her life and work as a legal defender for Belarusian opposition figures is more like fiction than real life.
“The situation really is like you’re reading a book,” Kazak said, speaking in Russian through a translator, in an interview with Courthouse News. “This book is about how there is a sort of state dictatorship in this country.”
Kazak is among a growing number of lawyers who are getting barred from practicing law in Belarus. In a new report, the American Bar Association said the disbarments appear to be part of a “larger pattern of retaliation by the Belarus government against lawyers for representing political opposition members and protesters and speaking out about the rule of law and human rights in Belarus.”
The dystopian book in which Kazak has found herself is part of is the same one captivating some 10 million Belarusians as their nation becomes ever more isolated from the rest of the world under President Alexander Lukashenko.
A Soviet-style leader whose office teetered on the verge of collapse eight months ago in the face of massive street protests, Lukashenko has held onto power while keeping a tight grip on politicians, journalists, students, everyday citizens, activists and lawyers.
This crackdown reached a new low on Sunday when Belarus forced a Ryanair passenger flight passing through its airspace to land in Minsk, where authorities promptly arrested Roman Protasevich, a prominent 26-year-old opposition journalist and activist aboard the plane. This incident sparked international condemnation, and the European Union blocked air travel to and from the country.
Sapega, 23, was traveling with Protasevich after vacationing in Greece and flying to Vilnius to defend her Master’s thesis, according to a European Humanities University statement
Sapega, 23, was traveling with Protasevich and flying to Vilnius to defend her Master’s thesis, according to a European Humanities University statement. Unfortunately, she too was detained and then arrested along with Protasevich on Sunday. Sapega, who is a Russian citizen, had been vacationing with Protasevich in Greece, according to a university spokesperson who confirmed the news to Reuters.
Sapega’s family also confirmed her detention on Monday, the spokesperson told the outlet. A Lithuanian passenger, who gave his name only as Mantas, said that on hearing the news that the plane was being diverted, Protasevich immediately opened an overhead locker, pulled out a laptop and a phone and gave them to a female companion. She was later identified Sapega. On landing, Protasevich was immediately separated from Sapega but alter she too was arrested.
In a statement given to Reuters, the university said: “As a result of a cover operation by the Belarusian authorities, the student was detained by the Administration of the Investigative Committee for the city of Minsk on groundless and made-up conditions.”
Arrested for No Reason
Needles to say, Sapega was unfortunate to be on the flight, which led to her arrest. Her university has condemned her arrest. “We protest against the unjustified detention of the member of EHU community”, the statement further read.
Sapega was flying to Vilnius to defend her Master’s thesis at the university to graduate from her five-year course. Sapega is a law student at the university, which was founded in Minsk in 1992 but forced by Belarusian authorities to relocate in 2004 to neighboring Lithuania.
Sapega’s university said it is providing her immediate consular assistance and has urged the international community and human rights defenders to assist in her release. “Sofia’s groupmates and faculty members tell that the student is well regarded due to her academic performance and reputation in EHU’s community,” the university statement read.
Although Sapega’s fate hangs in the balance, her university particularly is making all efforts to get her released. The Russian Embassy in Minsk told The New York Times that Belarus had notified the consul of Sapega’s detention but nothing more is known beyond that.
One of Russia’s leading defense lawyers has been detained on criminal charges of disclosing details of an investigation hours before he was due in court to represent a prominent former journalist accused of treason, his colleagues said early Friday.
“Ivan Pavlov, the leader of Team 29, was arrested on April 30 in Moscow after a search in his hotel room,” the organization said on its website.
Team 29 describes itself as an association of lawyers and journalists that stands for Russian citizens’ rights to access and distribute information.
“Mr. Pavlov was getting ready for a 9 a.m. court hearing for his defendant, journalist Ivan Safronov, accused of treason,” Team 29 said in the statement. The Moscow court extended Safronov’s pre-trial detention later Friday.
Pavlov told the independent Dozhd broadcaster that investigators suspect him of sharing information from Safronov’s treason case. Safronov faces up to 20 years in prison on suspicion of passing state secrets to the Czech Republic as a defense reporter in 2017.
Team 29 added that authorities also broke down the St. Petersburg apartment door of its digital security officer, Igor Dorfman, who stopped responding to calls at around that time. It later reported that police raided its office in St. Petersburg and the home of Pavlov’s wife.
Pavlov faces up to three months of arrest or two years of community service if found guilty of “disclosing the data of a preliminary investigation.”
Pavlov also represents jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s team in a highly anticipated “extremism” case that could see all its activities in Russia banned.
Pavlov’s colleague Olga Tseytlina told BBC Russia that she believes he was detained — the first such charges against lawyers since 2013 — in connection with the Navalny case to “push him aside.”
“This is an act of intimidation for the entire legal community, a signal that we’re all under the sword of Damocles: If you open your mouth, there will be fallout,” she said.
Pavlov’s other colleague, Yevgeny Smirnov, said that a lead investigator in Safronov’s treason case had threatened to “do everything to jail you because you are bones in our throats.”