Kazakhstan: ICJ calls authorities to discontinue prosecution of lawyers

Today the ICJ expressed concern about the real threat of criminal prosecution against lawyers Yerlan Gazimzhanov, Amanzhol Mukhamedyarov and Assel Tokayeva (photo) in Kazakhstan.

The ICJ said the action against lawyers was aimed at their discharging of their professional functions on behalf of clients, and not for any genuine criminal misconduct.

The ICJ called on the responsible authorities of Kazakhstan to discontinue the proceedings against the lawyers, which are contrary to international law and standards on the role of lawyers and the rule of law in the administration of justice.

On 22 June, in a court hearing in the criminal case, judge Ubasheva issued interim rulings against the lawyers seeking their prosecution for a number of acts, which on their face do not consist of criminal misconduct. The conduct for which prosecution is sought includes lodging a complaint alleging unethical conduct by the judge with the Commission on Judicial Ethics and Judicial Jury of the Supreme Court of the Republic; filing a motion for recusal of the judge; stating that the crime for which their clients had been accused had in fact been committed by another defendant; and participating in an international conference, rather than attending a court hearing to defend clients.

The various legal procedures used by the lawyers, including their complaint against the judge and the request for the judge’s recusal, are not prohibited by law. On the contrary, acts such as filing motions for recusal, lodging ethics complaints through officially prescribed channels, and performing standard criminal defence functions they constitute regular procedures prescribed in legislation Kazakhstan. They are also fundamental pursuant to the proper administration of justice under the rule of law.

The interim rulings of the court did not provide an analysis of the legal provisions allegedly violated by the lawyers. Certain of the lawyers were said by the court to have “demonstrated superiority over other actors in criminal proceedings.” It was also alleged that the information posted on a Facebook page about the proceedings in which one of the lawyers took part was false. However, the ruling failed to cite any specific details or conduct of the lawyers which would support these conclusions.

Regarding the charge that two of the lawyers had chosen to participate in an international conference rather than appear at the court hearing, this at most would fall under disciplinary procedures governing the conduct of members of the bar, and not the criminal law. The ICJ notes these charges should normally be made to competent disciplinary body, the Collegium of Lawyers, and not the Ministry of Justice through the request of the judge.

In addition to the criminal prosecution, judge Ubasheva asked the Ministry of Justice to take measures against the lawyers for a breach of professional ethics, causing unjustified delays in criminal trial, and contempt of court, and asked the Ministry of Interior to undertake an inquiry to determine whether the conduct of the lawyers constituted an offence punishable under Article 407 of the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan (obstruction of justice).

On 20-21 July 2017, the Criminal Chamber of Appeals examined the lawyers’ appeals against the conviction and interim appeals against the interim rulings.

The appeal proceedings before the Astana City Court were attended by Gulnora Ishankhanova, ICJ Commissioner acting as an ICJ observer.

Kazhakstan-Trial observation 3 lawyers-News-web story-2017-RUS (story in Russian, PDF)

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