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Monday, May 05, 2008

Putin's War on Lawyers

Paul Goble reports:

Together with other Russian law enforcement agencies, the FSB is now persecuting lawyers who defend individuals and groups the Kremlin doesn’t like, in ways that resemble the actions of the KGB in Soviet times, according to leaders of the All-Russian Congress of the Unions of Lawyers. Last Friday, speaker after speaker said that “along with the other problems of the legal profession,” Russian lawyers who defend people who have been charged with crimes for political reasons are now being persecuted in various ways by the Federal Security Service and other government agencies. The participants reported various incidents of “baseless persecution” of such defense counsel as Boris Kuznetsov, Serge Brovchenko, and Mikhail Trepashkin. And some of the lawyers attending the meeting distributed an open letter about this revival of this Soviet-era practice.

That letter described repeated incidents of “illegal actions” by FSB officers and about the unwillingness of the judges involved to do anything to protect the lawyers and the right of those charged with a crime to effective legal representation. The letter called on a senior judge “to personally intervene and not allow [this] open discrediting of the judicial system.” Other participants in this action said that “the problem of the persecution of lawyers for their professional activity by law-enforcement organs of Russia and, above all, by the FSB of the Russian Federation, [which were discussed at the congress] long ago became a norm of life” in post-Soviet Russia. “Unfortunately,” one of them pointed out, the government has not done anything to halt this or to take the steps needed to prevent the creation of a situation in which “soon there will not be any independent lawyers” in Russia “and citizens will have no one to turn to for their defense when their rights are violated by government officials.

Robert Amsterdam agrees:

It's no secret that over the past six years, the Russian government has began to target the lawyers and partners of its perceived opponents - a successful Soviet-style method of creating a culture of fear, whereby the enemy of the state is left without any support. In the Yukos case, we've seen the medical blackmail (and possible manslaughter) of general counsel Vasily Alexanyan, the attempt to disbar Karinna Moskalenko, my forced exile from the country, as well as many other motley office raids and interference. We're of course not the only ones. Just ask Boris Kuznetsov, Serge Brovchenko, and Mikhail Trepashkin (photograph) about the cost of performing their normal legitimate duties as lawyers.

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