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Thursday, May 10, 2007

IHF Condemns Kremlin Harrassment of Kasparov's Attorney

IHF Appeals to Russian Authorities to End Harassment against Human Rights Lawyer Karinna Moskalenko and Her Organization

Vienna, 9 May 2007. With a disbarment process against prominent Russian human rights lawyer Karinna Moskalenko under way, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) today appealed to relevant Russian authorities to end this and other forms of ongoing harassment targeting her and her organization and to ensure that they can carry out their work without hindrance.

“The initiative by the office of the Russian Prosecutor General to deprive Ms. Moskalenko of her professional status and prevent her from practicing law is an apparent attempt at discrediting and punishing her for her work on politically inconvenient cases and at establishing an example for other lawyers in this field,” said Aaron Rhodes, IHF Executive Director. He continued: “Ms. Moskalenko and her colleagues have done nothing wrong. They have, in fact, done a service to Russian society by assisting citizens to seek and obtain remedy for human rights violations and deserve recognition, not persecution.”

Ms. Moskalenko is the founder of the International Protection Center (IPC), a Moscow-based NGO that has provided legal assistance to victims of human rights violations for more than ten years and has brought numerous cases to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). More than 20 cases in which she and her colleagues have represented victims of abuse before the ECtHR have resulted in rulings against Russia, while some other 20 cases have been declared admissible and about 100 cases are currently pending with the court. She is also a Commissioner of the International Commission for Jurists (ICJ).(1) In 2006 Ms. Moskalenko received the IHF Recognition Award for her contributions to the protection of human rights.(2)

Many of the cases Ms. Moskalenko works on are of a politically sensitive character. Among the clients of her organization are victims and family members of victims of torture, “disappearances” and other abuses related to the conflict in Chechnya as well as the of the October 2002 hostage taking at the Dubrovka theatre in Moscow and the subsequent rescue operation. Most recently, she has assisted individuals facing legal charges as a result of their participation in opposition rallies and counseled opposition leader Garry Kasparov, who was questioned on suspicion of extremist activity following a rally held in Moscow on 14 April 2007.(3)

Ms. Moskalenko also serves as legal counsel of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former chair of the Yukos oil company who was sentenced to nine years in prison on tax evasion and related charges in a 2005 legal process widely criticized for being politically motivated and conducted in violation of international fair trial standards. She represents Mr. Khodorkovsky at the international level and has helped him file a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.

On 18 April 2007, Ms. Moskalenko was informed that the office of the Russian Prosecutor General is requesting her disbarment on grounds that she has allegedly acted in violation of professional ethics, failed to provide adequate assistance to her client and obstructed the investigation into the case of Mr. Khodorkovsky. This request was supported by the Russian Registration Service. An investigation is currently under way and the case is due to be heard by a disciplinary committee of the Moscow City Bar, which consists of both lawyers and outside members, by late May – early June 2007. The decision of this body can be appealed to court.

The effort to disbar Ms. Moskalenko is only the latest incident in a series of harassment targeting her and her organization in the past two years. Following a more than six-month long tax audit, the IPC received an order in July 2006 to pay profit tax on all projects implemented in 2002-2004, as well as late payment interests and a fine, totaling more than EUR 130,000. The tax authorities claimed that the IPC had unlawfully taken advantage of tax exemption, but in doing so they disregarded provisions of Russian tax legislation which state that grants such as those received by the center are not subject to profit tax.(4) This case is still ongoing, and the IPC has subsequently been subject to other forms of irregular administrative inspections. Already in October 2005 Ms. Moskalenko was threatened by disbarment in connection with her representation of Mr. Khodorkovsky, and in February 2007 she and four other defense lawyers of Khodorkovsky were detained at Domodedovo airport in Moscow.(5)

The harassment faced by Ms. Moskalenko and her colleagues have seriously impeded their work by forcing them to devote excessive resources to complying with various investigation requirements, tarnished their credibility in the public eye and thrust them into constant uncertainty about the future at a time when there is a growing demand for their services.

The IHF calls on relevant Russian authorities to put an end to all acts of pressure against Ms. Moskalenko and her organization and to ensure that she and her colleagues can carry out their important work, which is aimed at assisting the Russian government to comply with its international human rights obligations, without intimidation, obstruction or undue interference.

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