The trial of attorney Yulia Yurgilevich has commenced. She was brought in a prison uniform and held in a cage in the courtroom

The trial of attorney Yulia Yurgilevich and journalist Pavel Mazheika has commenced in Grodno. In a courtroom, political prisoners turned their backs to state media employees when the latter began filming the trial. Yulia was brought to court wearing a prison uniform labeled “Isolation Ward No. 2”. Both defendants were handcuffed and kept in a "cage" during the proceedings.

They are facing charges under Part 2 of Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code, which pertains to "[providing] other assistance to extremist activities committed repeatedly by a group of individuals through prior agreement.". The case is being considered by Judge Maxim Filatov in the Grodno Regional Court. According to the case file, Pavel Mazheika allegedly acted in concert with Yulia Yurgilevich between February and March 2022. He reportedly passed on information to unidentified persons for posting on the “Be**at” Internet the information received from Yulia about the revocation of her lawyer's license and exclusion from the Grodno Regional Bar Association, as well as the criminal case against Ales Pushkin and the sentence imposed on him, which was considered by the Minsk City Court. According to the case materials, this information was subsequently made available to the public by unidentified participants of the “Be**at”, thus granting widespread access to it.

These actions are being treated as a crime committed by a group of individuals through prior agreement, specifically involving the dissemination of intentionally false information to support extremist activities. Such “activities” are considered to be actions “deliberately aimed at planning, organizing, preparing, and carrying out attacks against the foundations of the constitutional system and public security of the Republic of Belarus, discrediting state authorities and leadership, and undermining the values and objectives of society and the state, including the authorities and leadership, as well as state bodies responsible for ensuring the rights, freedoms, and guarantees of their realization”.

The Right to Defense project emphasizes that information about the revocation of the license and the results of attorney certifications by the Qualification Commission under the Ministry of Justice is publicly available on the Internet. According to state media reports about the case materials, Yulia Yurgilevich is accused of publicizing an already accessible information about the revocation of her license and exclusion from the Bar. The Right to Defense considers these charges to serve as a pretext for the criminal prosecution of a lawyer for her professional activities and her defense of political prisoners.

The Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers state that 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.

International institutions recognize that certain external attributes of the trial process, such as keeping the accused in a cage and handcuffs in the courtroom, or dressing them in special clothing indicating their penitentiary institution or status are a direct violation of the presumption of innocence. As a general rule, defendants should not be handcuffed, held in cages, or subjected to other indications that they may be dangerous criminals during the trial. Furthermore, the media should not present information in a manner that undermines the presumption of innocence.

The Right to Defense condemns the violation on the part of Belarusian authorities of international obligations to safeguard the rights and immunities of lawyers.

In light of these circumstances, the Right to Defense strongly condemns the persecution of Yulia Yurgilevich for her professional activities and demands an immediate termination of her criminal prosecution, as well as her release from custody.
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