Three of Navalny's Attorneys Arrested in Russia: Details and Reaction from Colleagues. Right to Defense Statement

*Left to right: Vadim Kobzev, Igor Sergunin, and Aleksei Liptser

Russian lawyers Vadim Kobzev, Igor Sergunin and Aleksei Liptser, who defended Alexei Navalny, are currently in pre-trial detention. They face up to six years in prison for alleged "participation in an extremist organization" (Article 282.1, Para. 2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). They are charged with participation in an "extremist organization", this is what the Russian authorities call the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), established by Navalny, which was later dissolved by the court.

The attorneys were brought to court in the evening, after the court's working hours, and within a few hours, all three were sent to the pre-trial detention center until December 13. Liptser and Kobzev were taken to court in handcuffs.

Navalny's associate published in his Telegram channel information from the lawyers' case files. They suggest that Navalny's defense lawyers, allegedly "using their status in the provision of legal assistance for access to the correctional facility, ensured the regular transfer of information between the leaders and members of the extremist organization and A. Navalny". Navalny "thus continued to perform the functions of a leader and head of the extremist organization," according to the investigation.

Andrei Grivtsov, a lawyer defending Kobzev, told BBC that the investigator of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation in this case has taken non-disclosure agreements from the defense lawyers, preventing them from revealing the course of the preliminary investigation. Andrei explained that he would not be able to comment on the case due to the non-disclosure agreement, as well as the risks arising from the case for all Russian attorneys.

The case was unexpected for Kobzev, says Grivtsov: "It was inconceivable that an attorney could be prosecuted under such circumstances."

On Friday, law enforcers searched Vadim Kobzev's apartment in the Vladimir region, where Navalny is serving his sentence in Colony No. 6 and where the attorney was supposed to participate in a court hearing. Kobzev had represented Navalny in a criminal trial in the "extremist" case, which led to Navalny's sentencing in August to 19 years in a special regime colony.

At the same time, law enforcers searched the Moscow-based legal collegium Dalet lawyers Igor Sergunin and Alexei Liptser, who represented Navalny in his legal actions against the prison. Instances up to the Supreme Court have already rejected about fifty complaints.

The office of the Dalet collegium was also searched on Friday. "It's unclear why they had to take heavily armed Rosgvardiya officers to the bar association," Svetlana Davydova, the head of the collegium, told BBC. During the search, the lawyers' working documents were seized.

The same collegium also includes lawyer Olga Mikhailova, who is defending Navalny together with Kobzev in the "extremist" case. "Novaya Gazeta", without naming its sources, reported that a search warrant was also issued for Olga, however, it is reported that she had left Russia.

Reaction to the arrests

The Russian project "Department One" has published a statement that has already been signed by more than 360 organizations and individuals. In the statement, the signatories call on states to cease the harassment and intimidation of attorneys, as well as obstruction of their professional activities. "Stop the persecution of attorneys! A qualified defense will come in handy for you — for those who now undermine it."

Russian activist Ivan Zhdanov expresses "strong hopes" for the legal community: "What will say not ten people, as it is now, but fifty, or a hundred: 'We are dissatisfied with this!'. After all, they are the ones who are deprived of the opportunity to defend people, simply to do their work. I hope that there are still courageous attorneys who will participate in political cases and defend their clients".

Attorney Ivan Pavlov, who had his lawyer status revoked in Russia due to handling a number of high-profile cases, faced prosecution and was placed on the register of foreign agents, was forced to leave the country in September 2021. He views the prosecution of Alexei Navalny's defense lawyers as a new signal to the entire Russian legal community, warning them to 'stay out of politics.' "This is yet another vivid confirmation that attorneys are being persecuted for their professional activities. .... It signifies that the authorities have shifted into an active attack mode. While previously it may have been sporadic and isolated cases, there is now a clear demonstration of widespread repression against attorneys. My profession is perilous. My fellow colleagues also recognize this. It is evident that practicing law today entails many risks when the authorities associate an attorney with the defendant. It demonstrates that the authorities view defendants as adversaries rather than individuals functioning within the legal sphere. The law doesn't work for adversaries. It appears to me that these definitions are what the authorities are using. They seem to want attorneys to be as silent as furniture. In a courtroom, you have a table, a chair, and an attorney. It would be better if the attorney sat there, silently solving a crossword puzzle. The law necessitates the attorney's presence in the process, so they should be there.”

The Russian Federal Bar Association has assumed control of the arrest of Navalny's defenders. Genry Reznik, chairman of the committee for the defense of attorney rights, stated, "This case is now under the control of our committee. As more specific information becomes available, we will draw our conclusions based on the merits. We can confirm that the formal requirements of the Criminal Procedure Code have been satisfied, as the Moscow Bar Association was notified, and its representatives were present during the search."

Russian attorneys called on their colleagues to strike. They have published an open appeal on the Legal Petition website, proposing a "warning action" — a unified, temporary cessation of participation in all forms of legal proceedings from 00:00 (Moscow time) on October 25, 2023, to 00:00 (Moscow time) on October 28, 2023. In their appeal, the attorneys address the impossibility of exercising their professional rights, as well as the illegal pressure exerted on them. "There are not only instances of ignoring appeals, applications, petitions, and complaints, as well as violation of professional rights of attorneys, but also cases of murder, use of violence, threats, and persecution of attorneys by state bodies based on far-fetched administrative and criminal charges. In the vast majority of cases, these attacks go unpunished," the letter reads.

The Right to Defense Statement:

While our project is primarily focused on creating an informed and aware community of attorneys in the Republic of Belarus, which implies a particular emphasis on addressing the persecution of Belarusian lawyers, we cannot remain silent in the face of the deteriorating situation within the legal community in the Russian Federation.

As is evident, defenders of public activists, political opposition figures, and protesting citizens are not only obstructed in their work but are subjected to arbitrary detention, criminal and administrative prosecutions, and deprivation of their lawyer status. These actions violate international standards for the legal profession, disregarding reports and recommendations of international organizations, NGOs and international professional legal associations, which identify the problems of the legal profession and the provision of legal services not only in Belarus but also in Russia.

Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers declare in para. 16: the governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (b) are able to travel and to consult with their clients freely both within their own country and abroad; and (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.

This document particularly notes in para. 18. that lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients' causes as a result of discharging their functions.

The detention of Russian attorneys Vadim Kobzev, Igor Sergunin and Alexei Liptser in connection with their defense of Mr. Navalny (we remind you that the defense lawyers are accused of "using their status for access to a correctional facility to ensure regular transfer of information between the leaders and members of the extremist organization and Mr. Navalny") may be considered as a violation of their professional rights, as the known information suggests that they are being accused of advocating for Navalny's interests within the scope of their professional duties, contravening international standards governing the legal profession.

We support the Russian legal community and wish them strength and courage in protecting their interests and their right to exercise their professional duties. States should not permit, and should, indeed, cease the exertion of pressure on attorneys involved in high-profile cases, those actively defending their clients, or those highlighting legal violations by other bodies. On the contrary, governments are obliged to ensure the independence of the legal profession and safeguard citizens' right to access professional legal assistance.
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