ICJ condemns harassment of Yukos’ lawyers

In a letter addressed to President Putin, the ICJ ‘s Centre for the Independence of Judges and Layers condemned the confiscation of documents of two of Yukos’ lawyers and the potential disbarment of one them.

The ICJ urged the Russian Government to ensure that disbarment proceedings are terminated and to allow lawyers to discharge their professional duties.

Letter to the President of the Russian Federation [full text, PDF]

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin
President of the Russian Federation
Kremlin, Moscow
Russian Federation
Fax: +7 095 206 6277; 206 8510; 206 5173; 230 2408

Re: Olga Artyukhova and Evgeny Baru

Your Excellency,

We are writing to you to express our concern at the reported harassment and potential disbarment of Ms. Olga Georgievna Artyukhova, defence attorney for Mr. Mikhail Khodorkovskiy and the reported harassment of Evgeny Baru, defence attorney for Mr. Platon Lebedev. The harassment of these two lawyers and the potential disbarment of Ms. Artyukhova are a violation of international standards on the role of lawyers.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) consists of jurists who represent all the regions and legal systems in the world working to uphold the rule of law and the legal protection of human rights. The ICJ’s Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers is dedicated to promoting the independence of judges and lawyers throughout the world.

According to reliable information we have received, on 11 November 2003 Ms. Artyukhova met with Mr. Khodorkovskiy at the Matrosskaya Tishina Pre-trial Detention Centre in Moscow, where he is currently detained. After the meeting, Ms. Artyukhova was approached by an officer, who took one of her folders and read its contents. When the lawyer complained, the officer proceeded, along with some of his co-workers, to list and confiscate all her materials. After ten minutes, all her papers were returned, with the exception of two documents related to her client’s defence. The documents seized were reportedly leaked to the press, thus making public Mr. Khodorkovskiy’s defence strategy.

On 17 November 2003, Ms. Artyukhova lodged a complaint at the Ministry of Justice detailing the search and confiscation of documents. On 22 December 2003, the Ministry of Justice requested the Chamber of Advocates of Moscow to revoke Ms. Artyukhova’s license to practice law on the grounds that she had “discredited the honour and dignity of a lawyer” (article 17, paragraph 5 of the Federal Law on the Practice of Advocacy). As the Chamber of Advocates failed to act, on 19 March the Ministry of Justice requested the the Presensky District Court of Moscow to disbar of Ms. Artyukhova pursuant to article 17, paragraph 5 of the said Law.

Regarding Mr. Baru, we have received information that on 4 December 2003 a prison officer conducted a search and confiscated a number of documents pertaining to Mr. Lebedev’s defence after the lawyer visited his client at Pre-trial Detention Centre 77/1. Among the documents confiscated were Mr. Lebedev’s instructions to his defence team. The search lasted over two hours.

Confiscating documents related to a lawyer’s defence of his or her client is a violation of the attorney-client privilege and is unequivocally prohibited under international law. All persons detained have a right to communicate with their lawyers and the content of those communications, and the documents related to them, are confidential. In this sense, we draw your attention to the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1990, which state:

Principle 22. Governments shall recognize and respect that all communications and consultations between lawyers and their clients within their professional relationship are confidential.

Principle 8. All arrested, detained or imprisoned persons shall be provided with adequate opportunities, time and facilities to be visited by and to communicate and consult with a lawyer, without delay, interception or censorship and in full confidentiality. Such consultations may be within sight, but not within the hearing, of law enforcement officials.

Targeting lawyers in this manner constitutes a violation of the aforementioned Principles, which establish that Governments have the duty to ensure that lawyers can fulfil their functions without fear of harassment or improper interference. The Principles state:

Principle 16. Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.

We furthermore believe that Ms. Artyukhova’s potential disbarment on a vague charge related to “discrediting the honour and dignity of a lawyer” is without any legal and factual basis. As her conduct was lawful, the proceedings against Ms. Artyukhova do not comply with international standards. We draw your attention once more to the Principles, which state:

16. Governments shall ensure that lawyers (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.

We call on your Government to allow Ms. Artyukhova and Mr. Baru to discharge their professional duties according to international human rights standards. We further urge your Government to take all necessary steps to ensure that the disbarment proceedings are terminated. Finally, we call on your Government to fully respect the right to a fair trial of the members of the Yukos Board.

We would appreciate receiving a response to the matters raised on this letter and will continue to closely monitor this situation.

Please accept, Your Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.

Yours sincerely,

Nicholas Howen
Secretary General

Cc: HE Mr. Leonid Skotnikov
Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the UN Office in Geneva
Avenue de la Paix 15
1211 Geneva 20
Fax: 022 734 4044

Mr. Yuri Tchaika
Minister of Justice
Vorontsovo Pole
109830 Moscow
Russian Federation
Fax: +7 095 916 2903

Mr. Boris Gryzlov
Minister of Internal Affairs
Ul. Zhitnaya, 16
117049 Moscow
Russian Federation
Fax: +7 095 925 2098

Ms. Ella Pamfilova
Commission for Human Rights under the President of the Russian Federation
Ipatyevsky per., 4/10
103132 Moscow
Russian Federation
Fax: +7 095 206 4855

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