Report: "The Crisis of the Legal Profession: Continued Repressions 2022 – 2023"

A follow-up to an earlier special report on the state of affairs of the Belarusian legal profession has been published, covering repressions of the attorneys, violations of the right to defence and recommendations for reforms that the Bar should undergo to remedy the situation

The addendum extends the monitoring of the situation of attorneys and the Bar in Belarus following the 2020 presidential election.

The report concludes that in the analysed period Belarus continues to obstruct and deny attorneys access to their incarcerated clients. This practice particularly affects political prisoners. Some prisoners have been incommunicado for nearly a year, with attorneys unable to meet them or even exchange correspondence, leaving them in the dark about their clients' fates.

Between 2022 and 2023, there was an increase in the arbitrary detention of attorneys, used as a pretext to deprive the latter of their professional status, hinder their defence work, and intimidate the legal profession in general. At least six attorneys received lengthy prison sentences for carrying out their professional duties and/or exercising their fundamental rights.

This ongoing intimidation, disbarment, and arbitrary detention of attorneys, coupled with significant legislative changes, has led to a decline in the number of attorneys in Belarus. As of September 2023, there were only 1,616 specialists. The shortage of attorneys and their hindered ability to provide effective legal assistance indicate that the right to defence, access to a lawyer, access to justice, and effective remedies are not guaranteed in Belarus. This indicates the violation by the State of its obligations under Articles 2 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The report contains experts’ recommendations, including demanding the release of imprisoned attorneys, stopping their prosecution, reinstating attorneys disbarred since 2020, adopting legislation on the legal profession that is aligned with international standards, and ensuring an independent, self-governing, and self-regulating professional Bar association.
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