The ICJ today welcomed the decisions by the Kyrgyz Supreme Court declaring illegal the recent government searches of the homes and offices of lawyers, and seizures of their legal files.
In three related cases, the Court upheld the findings of the Osh regional court that the searches of the homes of lawyers Valerian Vakhitov and Khusanbay Saliyev and lawyers’ offices at the NGO “Bir-Duyno-Kyrgyzstan” by officers of the State National Security Committee were contrary to Kyrgyz law.
The Supreme Court also dismissed the attempts by the Prosecutor’s Office to initiate disciplinary action against judges of the Osh regional court as a result of their decision in these cases.
The decisions are an important affirmation of the rule of law in the Kyrgyz Republic, and will strengthen the independence of both the judiciary and the legal profession, the ICJ said.
“These decisions of the Supreme Court are crucial for securing the independence and strengthening of the legal profession under the newly established Association of Lawyers and for the ability of judges to issue independent decisions based on law and facts,” said Olga Zimareva, one of two ICJ observers who were present at the hearing.
“It is a demonstration of the judiciary’s willingness and capacity to effectively uphold the rule of law and safeguard the fundamental role of lawyers,” she added.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is binding on the Kyrgyz Republic, protects the right to a fair trial including lawyer-client confidentiality.
Furthermore, Principle 16 of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers upholds the duty of States to ensure that lawyers can perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.
International standards require that judges should not be subjected to disciplinary action for discharging their judicial function, as was requested by the Prosecutor’s Office in this case.
Principle 2 of the UN Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary makes clear that: “[t]he judiciary shall decide matters before them impartially, on the basis of facts and in accordance with the law, without any restrictions, improper influences, inducements, pressures, threats or interferences, direct or indirect, from any quarter or for any reason”.
On 25 March 2015, Umar Farooq, a United States national and journalist, was arrested by officers of the State National Security Committee (SNSC), who seized a number of items in his possession including the business cards of two lawyers, Valerian Vakhitov and Khusanbay Saliyev.
On 28 March, Umar Farooq was expelled from the Kyrgyz Republic on grounds of collection of information without accreditation.
The investigator sought a search warrant for the premises of the two lawyers on the grounds that they could contain documents “necessary for the investigation”. This was done despite a clear guarantee against such an interference under Article 29 of the Law On Advokatura and Lawyers’ Activity of the Kyrgyz Republic stating that “requisitioning, seizure, examination, inspection, copying documents, collection and use of information related to legal assistance in a particular criminal case are allowed only in the case involving a lawyer as a defendant …”.
Judges K.M. Matisakov and B.T. Satybaldiyev issued warrants to the State National Security Committee to search the NGO premises where the lawyers worked and to search the residence of Valerian Vakhitov and Khusanbay Saliyev, in separate proceedings on 26 and 27 March. Officers of searched the homes of lawyers and the office of the human rights organization Bir-Duyno-Kyrgyzstan” and seized certain case materials of the two lawyers.
In a statement issued on 31 March 2015, the ICJ deplored the unlawful actions against the lawyers and underscored that an independent legal profession is fundamental to ensuring the fair administration of justice and right to a fair trial for all persons who come before the courts.
The issuing of the warrants was successfully challenged by lawyers before the Osh Regional Court which issued its decision on 30 April 2015. Before the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor’s Office sought affirmation of the lawfulness of searchers of lawyer’s homes and work premises as well as recognition of the lawfulness of seizure of case materials, both guarantees clearly protected by national law in Kyrgyz Republic and international law and standards on the role of lawyers and the right to a fair trial.
The Prosecutor also sought disciplinary measures against the judges of the Regional Court who decided in favour of the protection of the professional guarantees of lawyers, ruling that the searches and seizures of documents were illegal.
Two ICJ observers attended the hearings at the Supreme Court: Olga Zimareva, a lawyer practicing in the Russian Federation and Almaz Osmanova, a lawyer in the Kyrgyz Republic and chair of the Central Asian League of Lawyers.
The Supreme Court issued its decisions finding the searches and seizures of documents illegal, on 24 June 2015. The reasons for the decisions have not yet been published.
The ICJ will publish its legal analysis of the proceedings and the judgment of the Supreme Court in due course.
Róisín Pillay, Director, Europe Programme, roisin.pillay(a)icj.org
Temur Shakirov, Legal Adviser, Europe Programme, temur.shakirov(a)icj.org
Kyrgyzstan-Supreme Court Vakhitov Saliyev-News-Press release-2015-RUS (full text in PDF, Russian)