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The final straw Human rights attorney Ivan Pavlov faces disbarment after agreeing to represent Team Navalny in court. A colleague says a state investigator has threatened him for years.
In the past few weeks, the Russian authorities have forced the dissolution of Alexey Navalny’s political opposition infrastructure, escalated their persecution of activists in this movement, and even started prosecuting journalists who report on the movement’s protests and activities. On Friday morning, April 30, police officers in Moscow arrested attorney Ivan Pavlov, the head of the “Team 29” human rights organization (a legal group that often represents defendants accused of treason and other crimes in closed hearings). Lawyers from Team 29 are representing Navalny’s political and anti-corruption groups against criminal allegations that they advocate extremism. Pavlov is now suspected of disclosing pretrial investigation data — a felony offense that could lead to as much as three months in jail and his disbarment. Meduza special correspondent Svetlana Reiter discussed these accusations with Evgeny Smirnov, Pavlov’s long-time colleague at Team 29.
Evgeny Smirnov met with Meduza in the lobby of Moscow’s Mercurе Hotel. He didn’t have a lot of time to talk about his friend Ivan Pavlov, where a search by federal agents was in its sixth hour. “What matters now is to understand what’s happening with Ivan,” explained Smirnov, saying that investigators had told him they planned to take Pavlov to their central office, just across the street, for further interrogation.
In town to assist with the legal defense of Alexey Navalny’s besieged political infrastructure, Smirnov and Pavlov had adjacent hotel rooms. Smirnov says he didn’t hear from his friend before the raid started, meaning that investigators must have entered his room when he was still asleep. At 6:45 a.m., Pavlov’s wife Katerina called him and said riot police were pounding on her apartment door back in St. Petersburg, where Pavlov’s legal office was also searched on Friday.
Team 29’s involvement in the extremism case against the Navalny movement may have been the “final straw” for the authorities, says Smirnov, but the new criminal allegations against Pavlov must be connected to a different investigation. “Ivan isn’t defending anyone from the Anti-Corruption Foundation in a felony case, and so he accordingly hasn’t signed any nondisclosure agreements,” Smirnov told Meduza. “In purely legal terms, this can’t be tied to the Anti-Corruption Foundation case.”
In what case then did Ivan Pavlov allegedly disclose pretrial investigation data? “We ourselves don’t know,” Smirnov says. Team 29 has provided legal assistance in many sensitive, high-profile cases, including to the treason suspects journalist Ivan Safronov and recently deceased scientist Viktor Kudryavtsev.
Defending accused traitors makes enemies, and Pavlov has even received threats from a state investigator named Alexey Chaban. “Of everyone in all the treason cases, he’s the most open and the most unhinged,” recalls Smirnov. “You’re standing on our throats, he says. We’re sick of you and we’ll do everything we can to lock you up, he says. He’s told that to us and to our clients and their relatives.”
Asked if he fears for his own safety, Smirnov told Meduza that he’s grown accustomed to constant harassment from law enforcement. “I’ve worked with Ivan for a long time — almost 13 years. We’re old colleagues but, more importantly, we’re good friends. And we made up our minds about this, long ago. After all, somebody in this country has to do this job.”
Abridged translation by Kevin Rothrock
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