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Navalny Lawyer Alexey Liptser in Moscow’s Basmanny court, which sent him to pre-trial detention. He is charged with participation in an “extremist community.”

‘Defense is not complicity’ An open letter from Russian human rights group Pervy Otdel after the arrest of Navalny’s lawyers

Source: Meduza
Navalny Lawyer Alexey Liptser in Moscow’s Basmanny court, which sent him to pre-trial detention. He is charged with participation in an “extremist community.”
Navalny Lawyer Alexey Liptser in Moscow’s Basmanny court, which sent him to pre-trial detention. He is charged with participation in an “extremist community.”
Dmitry Serebryakov / AP / Scanpix / LETA

Russian human rights group Pervy Otdel (Department One) has published an open letter in connection with the arrest of two of Alexey Navalny’s current lawyers, Igor Sergunin and Alexey Liptser, and a former lawyer, Vadim Kobzev. Navalny’s lawyers have been charged with participation in an “extremist community” (part 2 of Article 282.1 of the Russian Criminal Code). Case documents show that they are accused of passing information between Navalny and his supporters. Meduza is publishing the letter in full, in translation.

“Interference in legal activity pursued in compliance with the legislation or any obstruction whatsoever of such activity is prohibited.” Federal Law No. 63-FZ of 31.05.2002 “On lawyers’ activities and the bar in the Russian Federation,” Article 18.

Lawyers are targeted at the state level in Russia. Their rights under both national and international law are systematically violated. The government prevents defense attorneys from working, intimidates them, and initiates criminal proceedings against them. At the same time, the status of being a lawyer not only does not protect them but often becomes the direct reason for their persecution.

We remember how siloviki openly persecuted journalist Ivan Safronov’s lawyers: a criminal case was brought against Ivan Pavlov, the FSB initiated disciplinary proceedings against Evgeny Smirnov, and Dmitry Talantov is in a pre-trial detention center charged with incitement to hatred with abuse of official capacity — meaning specifically his work as a lawyer.

Repressive laws on “discrediting the army” and “military fakes” are actively used against lawyers. Our colleagues Mikhail Benyash, Edem Semedlyaev, Sergei Makarenko and others fell victim to this. And in the case of lawyer Maria Bonzler, the police found “discrediting the army” right in her court speeches in defense of those accused of the very same “discrediting.”

October 13, 2023, will go down in the history of Russian law as a dark day for the legal profession. Three of opposition activist Alexey Navalny’s defense attorneys — Vadim Kobzev, Alexey Liptser, and Igor Sergunin — have been arrested. They are charged with participation in an “extremist community.” Their homes were searched, as well as the Moscow-based legal collegium Dalet office, where another of the politician’s lawyers, Olga Mikhailova, is a member. At the same time, lawyer Alexey Ladin, who defends Ukrainian prisoners of war, Crimean Tatars, and those accused of sabotage, had his place searched in Crimea.

All these cases, as well as many other sad precedents in the practice of targeting lawyers, have one thing in common — the government directs its repressive capabilities at defense lawyers in cases that have a strong political component. As can be seen from the situation with Navalny’s lawyers, the authorities literally associate lawyers with the activities that the defendants are accused of.

But this is absurd! Defense is not complicity. Lawyers are not partners or accomplices of their clients; they provide them with defense, the right to which is enshrined in the Russian Constitution. Or is it that the defense of a person accused of murder is already reason to suspect the defense lawyer himself of this terrible crime? No, this cannot and should not be the case.

This is a gross violation of the very principles of law.

We demand that the state stop harassing and intimidating lawyers and obstructing their professional activities. Defendants must have the right to a defense, and defense attorneys must have the right to provide it. This should not be hindered by any political considerations.

The human rights group Pervy Otdel calls on public institutions and concerned individuals to sign this letter. Yes, we have practically no tools left to stop the illegal activities of the state. However, we can speak up and point out to the government its crimes.

Stop persecuting lawyers! Professional defense will also be useful to you — to those who are now destroying it.

You can sign the letter here.

At the time of publication, over 200 individuals and organizations have signed the letter. Among them:

The OVD-Info team

The editors of Novaya Gazeta Europe

Mikhail Benyash, lawyer

Ekaterina Kotrikadze, director of information services and anchor, TV Rain

Tikhon Dziadko, editor-in-chief, TV Rain

The editors of Meduza

Galina Timchenko, publisher and executive director, Meduza

Ivan Kolpakov, editor-in-chief, Meduza

Social movement Russia Behind Bars

Organization For Your Freedom and Ours (Prague)

Organization Russland hinter Gittern (Berlin)

Organization My Russian Rights (Berlin)

Lizaveta Tsybulin, journalist

Publication Pskovskaya Gubernia

Maxim Solyus, editor

Publication Proekt

Lola Tagaeva, Verstka

Andrey Borzenko, Libo/Libo

Galina Arapova, Mass Media Defense Center

Tatiana Ivanova, Bumaga

Mikhail Klimarev, Internet Protection Society

Sergey Parkhomenko, journalist 

Pavel Kanygin, editor-in-chief, To be continued

Taisiya Bekbulatova, editor-in-chief, Holod

A full and updated list of names can be found here.

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