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Kazakhstan: landmark court ruling in favour of lawyers’ rights
The ICJ welcomes the decision of the Almaty City Court in favour of Ayman Umarova, a lawyer who received repetitive demands from the investigative authorities to testify as a witness in a case in which she represented a client.
The Court decided that those demands were contrary to the law of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
Earlier this month, on 8 April, Umarova (photo) had challenged the official summons of Baurzhan Muzhikov, the head of an investigative group of the Anti-Corruption Service of Almaty, to testify as a witness.
The Medeu Regional Court confirmed the lawfulness of such demands, concluding that it was not related to her professional activity.
On 18 April, the Appeals Collegium of the Almaty City Court overturned the decision of the Medeu Regional Court.
Umarova was represented in the case by 28 lawyers as a demonstration of solidarity by the profession.
“The matter concerns not only Ayman Umarova but the entire legal community. If the case sets a precedent, the rights of our citizens will be in jeopardy,” Anuar Tugel, the President of the Republican Collegium of Lawyers, was reported to have said.
“The decision of the Almaty City Court is an important step in protecting the independence of the legal profession,” said Temur Shakirov, Legal Adviser of the ICJ Europe Programmme.
“While it is welcome that the Court remedied the practice of a forced testimony contrary to the international standards on the role of lawyers, it is worrying that such instances of obstruction of the work of lawyers continue to occur,” he added.
The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, in Principle 22, stipulate that: “Governments shall recognize and respect that all communications and consultations between lawyers and their clients within their professional relationship are confidential”.
The UN Human Rights Committee has expressed concerns where “lawyers are released from their obligation of professional confidentiality and obliged to testify or face the risk of imprisonment” (UN Doc CCPR/C/TUN/CO/5 (2008), para. 15).
The ICJ recalls that, in accordance with of the UN Basic Principles, lawyers should be able to perform their professional duties without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference (Principle 16) and should never be identified with their clients’ causes (Principle 18).
Róisín Pillay, Director, Europe Programme, roisin.pillay(a)icj.org
Temur Shakirov, Legal Adviser, Europe Programme, temur.shakirov(a)icj.org
On 28 March 2016, Ayman Umarova started her representation of Sayat Nadirbayev in a criminal case related to Talgat Ermegiyaev, former head of the Astana EKSPO-2017 company, accused of embezzlement.
On 2 April, after a request on the phone by the head of the Investigative Department of the Anti-Corruption Service of Almaty Baurzhan Muzhikov, Ayman Umarova received an official demand to appear and testify as a witness in the case. Since then she was required to appear and testify several times.
On 6 April, the Chair of the Almaty Collegium of Lawyers receive a letter signed by Baurzhan Muzhikov, the head of an investigative group of the Anti-Corruption Service of Almaty, asking it to “facilitate the appearance of lawyer Umarova Ayman … to question her as a witness”.
On the same day the Republican Collegium of Lawyers issued a statement where it qualified this request as a “violation of the guarantees of advocates’ activities” and urged that “appropriate measures [be taken] in regard to the officers of the Anti-Corruption Service”.
Kazakhstan-Landmark decision-News-Web Stories-2016-RUS (full text in Russian, PDF)