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Statement Concerning the Persecution of Lawyers in Crimea

Statement of the Human Rights Agenda platform concerning the persecution of lawyers who work with politically motivated cases in occupied Crimea

On November 6, 2018, a prosecutor and three employees of the General Administration for Combating Extremism of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, their faces covered with masks, forced their way into a lawyer’s office in occupied Crimea. They were looking for the well-known Crimean lawyer Emil Kurbedinov, winner of the Front Line Defenders Award 2017, to give him a warning about the inviolability of the laws on extremism and terrorism.

Earlier, on October 27, 2018, a similar warning was given to the lawyers Edem Semedliayev and Lili Gemedzhi, as well as Dilyaver Memetov (coordinator of the NGO “Crimean Solidarity”) during one of the regular meetings between families of Crimean Tatars who had become political prisoners. Human rights activists claim that there is intelligence information that the lawyers were among the possible organisers of one-person protests supporting those involved in the Hizb ut-Tahrir case. However, neither the lawyers themselves, nor the bar council was informed about any covert investigative activities.

It is important to note that Emil Kurbedinov and his colleagues belong to a narrow group of local lawyers consistently working on politically motivated cases. The above-mentioned actions of the occupation government are therefore nothing else but pressure against human rights activists in an attempt to impede their professional activity. Moreover, they are meant to serve as a direct message to all members of the bar across the whole occupied peninsula, so that nobody will defend people persecuted for political reasons.

We want to draw your attention to the fact that the lawyer’s status is defined by the international law, so lawyers should not be identified with their clients or the cases they work on in their professional capacity.

We claim that this policy of the occupation government flagrantly violates the guarantees of advocacy established in the Basic Principles On the Role of Lawyers (Eighth United Nations Congress On The Prevention Of Crime, August–September 1990) and breaches its obligations as the occupant state (i.e., that the state which has occupied a part of another state’s territory has to allow lawyers to carry out their professional activity without impeding or intimidating them, or unreasonably interfering in their work).

Furthermore, Article 12 of the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms obliges states to take all necessary measures to protect human rights advocates “against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action” related to their activity aimed at promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.

We want to emphasise that this is by no means the first time Emil Kurbedinov has been persecuted for his professional activity as a lawyer. In January 2017, he was detained by the employees of the General Administration for Combating Extremism when on his way to provide legal assistance to the family of civic activist Saliyev, whose apartment was being searched by law-enforcement officers. Kurbedinov was charged with disseminating extremist materials under Article 20.3 of the Administrative Code of Russia for an entry he had published on social media in 2013, before the annexation of Crimea. Later, the occupation court sentenced him to ten days in jail.

We hereby call upon international non-governmental human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights House Network, and others, to publicly state that the persecution of lawyers in occupied Crimea is unacceptable. 

We call upon international intergovernmental organisations – the United Nations, the Council of Europe, OSCE – to condemn the persecution of lawyers and human rights activists and to address the Russian government, requesting that they stop the persecution.

Pursuant to PACE’s Recommendations No. 2085 (2016) and No. 2121 (2018), we call upon the member states of the Council of Europe to intensify their activities in developing and adopting the Convention on the Profession of Lawyer and to expand it to include the basic principles regarding preventive mechanisms in cases of persecution of lawyers.

We also call upon national and international bar associations to express their solidarity and publicly speak in support of their colleagues working in occupied Crimea, and to include this issue on the agendas of their organisations.

Human Rights Agenda platform is the informal coalition of human rights organisations that work on solving systemic problems of legislation and finding a strategy to protect the basic principles of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The platform participants are the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, the Center for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International Ukraine, the Human Rights Information Center, the Center for Law Enforcement Studies, the Project “Without Borders”, Euromaidan SOS, etc. The Center for Civil Liberties coordinates the platform activities. Contacts: [email protected]

Center for Civil Liberties
Crimean Human Rights Group
Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union
Luhansk Regional Human Rights Center “Alternative”
Eastern-Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives
Open Dialogue Foundation
NGO “CrimeaSOS”
Human Rights Information Center
Regional Human Rights Center