The ICJ calls on the Belarus authorities to revoke the disbarment of lawyer Aleksandr Pylchenko and to end harassment or other interference with the work of lawyers in the country.
His disbarment appears to be arbitrary and in violation of rights to freedom of expression as well as international standards on the role of lawyers.
The decision of 15 October 2020 of the Ministry of Justice to disbar the lawyer is clearly related to his work in defence of human rights and his representation of clients, including, opposition leaders or protesters.
This disbarment is part of a pattern of increasing obstruction of lawyers who represent those associated with recent protests in Belarus, including through arrests and detention of lawyers, and prevention of their access to clients.
Aleksandr Pylchenko represented Viktor Babariko and Maria Kolesnikova, two leaders of the opposition in Belarus.
Disbarment proceedings against Mr Pylchenko started as a result of his public criticism of the response of the law enforcement authorities to claims of ill-treatment of protesters.
On 14 August 2020, in a media interview Mr Pylchenko called on the Prosecutor General’s Office to take action, in particular to launch criminal investigations into the ill-treatment of protesters by the police and to remove the Minister of Interior and other officials from their posts because of their involvement in human rights violations.
According to the Ministry of Justice, Mr Pylchenko called for “illegal actions, including blocking and disarming military units” and his statements “mislead the public about the powers of state bodies and do not comply with procedural norms”.
Belarus has obligations under international law to protect the right to freedom of expression (Article 19 ICCPR). Lawyers have a particular role in publicly raising concerns about violations of the human rights of their clients, or problems in the justice system that lead to violations of human rights.
The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers affirm that lawyers, like others, are entitled to freedom of expression and in particular, have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights.
Furthermore, the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers provide that governments must ensure that lawyers ‘are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference”. (Principle 23). Lawyers should 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 (Principle 16). They should never be identified with their clients’ causes.
Following the presidential elections of 9 August 2020 in Belarus, widespread protests across Belarus took place.
On 18 June and 7 September 2020, Victor Babaryka and Maria Kolesnikova, opposition leaders in Belarus, were detained.
There are reports that defence lawyers were denied access to those arrested including in high-profile cases, such as the case of the former presidential candidate Victor Babaryka whose lawyer was not allowed to see his client in the detention centre for significant period of time.
On 9 September 2020, lawyers Ilya Salei and Maxim Znak, were detained allegedly on politically motivated charges.
On 25 September 2020, the Minsk city Oktyabrsky District Court sentenced Luidmila Kazak, lawyer of Maria Kolesnikova, to a fine (220 Euro) for “disobeyance to a lawful order” of a police officer (Article 23.4 of the Code of Administrative Offences). The lawyer stated that the arrest and administrative fine are connected to her legal representation of the opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova.
The ICJ has previously called on Belarus to comply with its international human rights obligations, including by releasing those arbitrarily detained and ceasing abusive prosecutions as well as harassment of lawyers.NewsWeb stories