Wednesday 18 October 2023
The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemns the arrests of Vadim Kobzev, Alexey Liptser and Igor Sergunin, lawyers representing Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, and calls for their immediate release and for all charges against them to be dropped.
The three lawyers were arrested on 13 October 2023, seemingly as a direct consequence of discharging their professional duties in defence of Alexey Navalny. On the morning of the same day, Russian authorities carried out searches at the residences and legal offices of the three lawyers. Equipment and privileged documents containing attorney–client confidential information were confiscated. The lawyers stand accused of associating with an extremist group, pursuant to Article 282.1 of the Russian Criminal Code. The potential prison term associated with these charges ranges from two to six years. Additionally, it entails the freezing of their assets and the suspension of their ability to practice law. The detention of the three lawyers leaves Alexey Navalny without legal representation at a delicate time, when he is being moved to a ‘special regime’ detention facility where he will likely be at heightened risk of ill-treatment.
IBAHRI Co-Chair and Immediate Past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc, commented: ‘The detention of Alexey Navalny’s lawyers is not only a direct violation of their rights but, by preventing them from representing Mr Navalny, it entails yet another breach of his fair trial rights and an attack on the independence of the legal profession in Russia.’
IBAHRI Co-Chair, Mark Stephens CBE, stated: ‘Russia’s systematic restrictions and repressive actions against lawyers are a key component of its strategy to silence opposition. Lawyers are not only subjected to disciplinary, administrative and criminal harassment and prosecution, but also to physical violence amounting to torture and ill-treatment. Such widespread and escalating acts of intimidation create a chilling effect on the whole system and constitute an unacceptable affront to the rule of law.’
International human rights laws and standards, such as those outlined in Articles 9 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, underscore the critical role that lawyers play in safeguarding human rights and upholding the equitable administration of justice. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, under Principle 16, require governments to guarantee that lawyers are able to carry out their legitimate professional activities without fear of reprisals, harassment, persecution or undue interference. Moreover, Principle 18 enshrines the fundamental guarantee that ‘lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions’.
IBA Executive Director, Mark Ellis, stated: ‘Navalny’s lawyers have been arrested for having performed their professional duties in defence of the “wrong” client, a political prisoner. After Putin launched his war of aggression against Ukraine in February 2022, the restrictions on the ability of lawyers to fulfil their obligations have only intensified. A wide range of repressive measures has been deployed by Russian authorities with the intent to create a climate of fear among the legal profession and prevent the effective legal defence of those perceived as opposition figures. In this way, the individuals prosecuted for exercising fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly – in attempts by Russian authorities to stop their political and public activities – are left without legal representation of their choosing. The three recent arrests further dismantle any semblance of the rule of law in Russia.’
The IBAHRI calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the three lawyers and of all others detained on politically motivated grounds, and for all charges against them to be dropped. It further calls on Russian authorities to put an end to the harassment, intimidation, violence and repression of independent and dissident voices and of legal professionals representing them.