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Russia: Stop the prosecution of lawyers and human rights defenders

Russian human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov and Crimean lawyer Emil Kurbedinov were subjected to shocking cases of administrative arrest for posting on social networks. In this way, the authorities continue to apply the policy of intimidation and punishment of individuals who dare criticise the actions of the regime and protect those persecuted for political reasons.

On 5 December 2018, by the decision of the Tverskiy district court of Moscow, Lev Ponomaryov, the head of the public movement “For Human Rights”, was placed under administrative arrest for 25 days. The reason for the arrest was the fact that Ponomaryov published a post on Facebook calling to participate in the action “For Our and Your Children”. The action took place on 28 October 2018 in Moscow and had not been agreed with the authorities. The court found Ponomaryov guilty of violating the rules for holding a public event. On 7 December 2018, Moscow City Court reduced the duration of the arrest to 16 days.

The public movement believes that the decision to arrest Ponomaryov for such a long term was taken in connection with the preparation of the action “March for peace. Against violence” scheduled for 16 December 2018. Lev Ponomaryov is the initiator of the march and one of the persons who submitted the notification of the action to Moscow’s mayor’s office on 3 December 2018. It was reported that the action “should be a response of civil society to the progressive seizure of power by the security forces, the use of torture and provocation, and toughening political repression …”.

It is also worth noting that Lev Ponomaryov was one of the initiators of the letter of Russian human rights activists calling not to allow the appointment of a Russian representative to the office of President of Interpol. Due to the solid position of human rights activists from different countries, it was possible to prevent Alexander Prokopchuk from heading Interpol.

On 6 December 2018, employees of the Centre for Countering Extremism detained lawyer Emil Kurbedinov in Crimea. The reason for the detention was the reposting by Kurbedinov of several Facebook posts from the Hizb ut-Tahrir Ukraine fanpage back in 2013. The reposts reported on events (rallies, press conferences) held by the organisation. In Russia, Hizb ut-Tahrir is recognised as a terrorist organisation, but its activities are not prohibited in Ukraine. Kurbedinov was accused of “propaganda or public demonstration of attributes or symbols of extremist organisations”.

During the detention, the lawyer had his phone, computer and hard drive seized from him.

The fact of Kurbedinov’s arrest caused great indignation among his colleagues and the public. In court, he was defended by 13 lawyers and attorneys, and hundreds of people gathered near the building to express their support for the detainee. The trial lasted two days. On 7 December 2018, Anton Tsykurenko, a judge of the Kyiv District Court of Simferopol, decided to put Emil Kurbedinov under administrative arrest for five days.

Earlier, Emil Kurbedinov had already been brought to administrative responsibility for the same repost, but this time made in another social network — VKontakte. In January 2017, he was sentenced to ten days of arrest. The court ignored the arguments of Kurbedinov’s defence stating that in 2013 Russian legislation was not yet in force in Crimea. In fact, a retroactive law was applied to the lawyer.

Kurbedinov was punished twice for the same act. It is noteworthy that in both cases (in January 2017 and December 2018), the administrative violation protocol was compiled by the same operational officer, Ruslan Shambazov.

Lawyer Emil Kurbedinov is widely known for his involvement in the protection of individuals who have faced politically motivated prosecution on the Crimean peninsula. In particular, Kurbedinov is a lawyer for one of the Ukrainian sailors captured by Russia in the Kerch Strait at the end of November 2018. In January 2017, Kurbedinov was awarded the Front Line Defenders Human Rights Award for his “many years of work as a human rights lawyer”.

In Russia, the method of influencing lawyers through judicial or disciplinary bodies is a common phenomenon. Often, lawyers are subject to disbarment, and human rights defenders note the dependence of disciplinary bodies on judicial authorities.

In Crimea, a wave of repression against opponents of the Russian authorities unfolded with the beginning of the Russian occupation. More than 70 people were subjected to politically motivated criminal prosecution. Emil Kurbedinov is one of the few lawyers who dare to participate in politically motivated cases.

The administrative arrests of Lev Ponomaryov and Emil Kurbedinov followed in response to their human rights activities. Thus, the Russian authorities are trying to frighten other human rights defenders and lawyers and crack down on critics of the regime.

The Open Dialogue Foundation calls on the international community to take concrete actions in order to protect individuals who are facing politically motivated persecution, as well as their defenders. On 10 December 2018, at a meeting of EU foreign ministers, the Netherlands proposal to create a European equivalent of the Magnitsky Act was approved; it would allow personal sanctions to be placed on persons involved in human rights violations in any country of the world. We call for the immediate development and adoption of such a document.

For more information, please contact:
Lyudmyla Kozlovska – [email protected]