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‘Be ready for anything’ Lawyer and human rights defender Ivan Pavlov on treason cases in Russia

Source: Meduza
Ksenia Ivanova / SCHSCHI for “Meduza”

In Moscow on July 7, federal agents arrested Ivan Safronov — a former investigative journalist for the respected Russian business newspapers Kommersant and Vedomosti, who recently took a job as a communications advisor to the head of the Russian space corporation “Roscosmos.” Safronov was accused of high treason for allegedly collaborating with Czech intelligence. To find out more about treason cases in Russia and the ways Safronov’s case could develop, Meduza spoke to Ivan Pavlov, the lawyer at the head of the human rights organization “Team 29,” which specializes in these types of cases. Ivanov was also part of the team of five lawyers who represented Safronov during his arraignment on July 7 (he was sentenced to two months in jail).

— Treason cases seem especially difficult for lawyers. What difficulties do you usually encounter?

— The specificity of these cases is that your procedural opponent is the all-powerful security service. [They’re] all-powerful not only in the context of Russia, but perhaps in the world too. And very often these rather powerful procedural opponents begin to position you as an enemy. Their psychology is built that way — [it’s] their worldview. In it there are their own, and there are enemies. 

— Enemies of the FSB or of the government?

— They equate [the two]. So here you have to be ready for any provocations. Be ready for anything. And be careful, of course. 

On top of that, they will try to silence the lawyer very quickly. To get every possible signature [on] non-disclosure agreements — not only about state secrets, but also about the information in the investigation in general. [They can use] any of your words and open a criminal case against the lawyer. Therefore, it’s practically impossible [to work] on such cases. We always try to get involved in these cases as a team, so that someone is left without a [non-disclosure agreement] and can tell the public about what is happening.

— Judicial proceedings in these cases are usually closed, right?

 — Yes, all of the hearings are closed, including [those] on the application of preventative measures. [People] are only allowed in for the announcement of the verdict. And the investigation is always closed in general. The only person you can learn something from is the lawyer. As such, the [accused] is kept in custody in 99 percent of cases. And, consequently, he can’t say anything himself. But he can’t sign a nondisclosure agreement, and if he is freed, then he can talk. For example, in the Tsurkan case, [Karina Tsurkan] was freed for a short period of time and had the opportunity to talk about her case herself. But for this you need to be freed, and not just anyone gets this chance.

— In the event that a lawyer has signed a non-disclosure agreement, what can they say about the case?

— A lawyer under a [non-disclosure] is risking everything. Including [their] freedom — there have already been cases when lawyers have been convicted of divulging an investigation’s data. They are also risking their status — any conviction, even probation, and the person loses their profession. Lawyers have something to fear. But there is a specific tactic that helps solve this problem [and] that’s working as a team. This allows you to convey the ugliness of what takes place behind closed doors to society. 

Read more about treason cases in Russia

— In general, what can a lawyer do in these types of cases? It seems like the range of action isn’t very broad.

— Firstly, do the legal part of the job flawlessly. Secondly, try to avoid having the lawyer talk to the press. Don’t expose yourself, from the point of view of personal risks — don’t get charged with divulging state secrets or the secrets of the investigation. 

— Everyone knows that people [charged] under this article are almost never acquitted. Do people accused under it have any chance?

— Everyone always has chances. It’s important not to give up and to fight. Temporary setbacks shouldn’t impact [your] resilience.

— But are the chances even lower than the average in Russia, where less than 1 percent of cases end in acquittals? 

— Yes. If you look at the statistics, then of course the situation is sad. Even when a person seems to be able to prove their innocence, then they can give him probation or make some other kind of concessions. But I hope that a time will come when there will be [acquittals] under this article. We simply need to work. And work flawlessly. 

— In 2001, you defended journalist Grigory Pasko, who was also accused of treason. Can you draw any parallels with Ivan Safronov’s case?

— I can: in both cases they are being tried for their journalist activity. But of course, times have changed. Back then, the entire journalistic community came out in defense of Grigory — even the national television channels came to his defense. Now, of course, national channels have changed a bit. But no matter. The journalistic community is more active than others. And the [Ivan] Golunov case is a good example of this. And I hope that now you can demonstrate your reaction to Ivan Safronov’s case to the authorities. You’ve already fought [them] off for one Ivan, fight them off for another. 

— Does public attention help in these kinds of cases?

— Of course. You remember the case of Svetlana Davydova. Stopping the criminal case was the work of the defense, but only public attention helped to get her out of custody. She was only taken out thanks to the public’s efforts — back then we collected more than 50,000 signatures for a petition in support of her over a weekend.

— Do you understand the logic of why they are [using] this article to come after journalists now? Seeing as nearly 20 years have passed since the Pasko case. 

— I’m surprised that similar cases haven’t happened up until now. A few years ago there was a trend [of going after] scientists, they started taking them in droves. Well now, it’s you [journalists]. 

You are the at-risk group: you operate on information, you are in contact with sources, and colleagues overseas. This is enough to put [you] in an at-risk group — information and foreign connections. All of this is entirely expected. I’ve wondered why there weren’t similar examples before now.

We won’t give up Because you’re with us

Interview by Pavel Merzlikin

Translation by Eilish Hart

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