October 17, 2023

Repression Impacts Lawyers


Repression Impacts Lawyers
Alexei Navalny in court in Moscow, February 20, 2021. Evgeny Feldman, Wikimedia Commons.

Vadim Kobzev, Alexey Liptser, and Igor Sergunin, all of whom have previously defended the opposition politician Alexei Navalny in court, were placed in pre-trial detention. The lawyers have been charged with being part of an "extremist community," a criminal offense that carries a prison sentence of up to six years.

Kobzev was apprehended in Kovrov, where he was expected to attend proceedings related to two of Navalny's claims against the nearby prison where Navalny is serving his sentence. Navalny received news of the arrests during the trial.

"The situation appears reminiscent of Soviet-era repression, with not only political activists facing persecution and imprisonment but also their legal representatives," said Navalny.

The charges against the lawyers stem from letters allegedly sent by Alexei Navalny from his place of detention. This information is derived from case material excerpts published by Ivan Zhdanov, a key figure in Navalny's anti-corruption foundation, FBK.

Authorities assert that Kobzev, Liptser, and Sergunin, by leveraging their legal roles to access Correctional Colony № 6, where Navalny is incarcerated, facilitated the regular transmission of information between FBK and Navalny's associates. This purportedly allowed them to "continue to perform the functions of leaders and facilitators of the extremist community by devising, preparing, facilitating, and engaging in extremist activities."

Perviy Otdel ("The First Department"), a Russian human rights organization, has issued an open appeal to halt the state pressure on lawyers. The statement emphasizes that "defense is not collaboration" and underscores that lawyers are not co-conspirators but rather providers of legal defense, a right enshrined in the Russian Constitution. This appeal has garnered support from over a thousand individuals and organizations.

Tatyana Felgengauer, a Russian journalist, had previously voiced concerns that the authorities in Russia were targeting lawyers. She argued that the authorities' objective is to dismantle the independent legal profession, akin to what transpired in Belarus. From 2020 to 2023, 550 lawyers in Belarus were compelled to cease their legal work due to repression imposed by the Lukashenko regime.

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