The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) today condemned a series of violent assaults against lawyers and a journalist in the Russian Federation.
The assaults targeted lawyer Alexander Nemov and Yelena Milashina, a journalist of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta in Chechnya, followed by another attack on lawyer Elena Ponomareva in Moscow. They are part of a worrying broader pattern of violence against persons for carrying out their important professional functions as lawyers and journalists.
Alexander Nemov and Yelena Milashina were violently assaulted on 5 July on their way to Grozny from the airport, intending to attend a court hearing for Zarema Musayeva, a client of Nemov’s, whose other lawyer, Natlya Dobronravova who was herself assaulted in 2022. Reports indicate that their vehicle was intercepted by three armed and masked men. They were then severely beaten, including in the face, threatened with death, had a gun pointed at their temples. Their assailants then allegedly forcibly removed and destroyed their equipment and shaved Milashina’s head smeared her face with green dye. The attackers left Nemov and Milashina with serious injuries, including broken fingers, head wounds, and an apparent stab wound to Nemov’s leg.
The following day, on July 6th, Elena Ponomareva, a member of the Moscow Region Lawyers’ Chamber, was attacked by unidentified persons who doused her with green paint at a public bus stop. As a result of the attack, she suffered retinal damage and other bodily injuries. This incident marked the escalation of prior threats she had received through instant messaging programs, indicating that her professional activities had made her a target of this ruthless campaign of intimidation.
The ICJ deplores these attacks that represent a flagrant disregard for international law and standards that protect the rights of lawyers and human rights defenders.
“Lawyers and journalists like Alexander Nemov and Zarema Musayeva play an indispensable role as human rights defenders and this assault is not merely an attack on two individuals, but an attack on the rule of law itself. It is likely to have a profound chilling effect on the professions of lawyers and journalists,” said Temur Shakirov, Interim Director for ICJ Europe and Central Programme.
The ICJ urges the Russian authorities to conduct a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into the assault with a view to bringing those responsible to justice through a fair trial. The ICJ further calls on the Russian government to adopt necessary measures to protect journalists and lawyers in line with Russia’s international human rights obligations. Lawyers and journalists and other human rights defenders must be allowed to carry out their professional duties free from fear of reprisal or intimidation.
The ICJ is concerned at the persistent attacks on lawyers and human rights defenders in the Russian Federation and particularly in Chechnya, which are systemic and may have the purpose of intimidating those who wish to defend human rights.
Despite his severe injury, Alexander Nemov attended the court hearing where his client, Musayeva, was sentenced to five and a half years in prison. The ICJ is concerned for Zarema Musayeva’s well-being, as she suffers from diabetes with complications, making her stay in the poor prison conditions highly risky for her state of health.
Zarema Musayeva, the wife of retired Supreme Court Judge of Chechnya Saydi Yangulbaev, is facing politically charged allegations from Chechen authorities. These allegations and her subsequent detention are believed to be part of a larger campaign of harassment against the Yangulbaev family due to the human rights work of their sons.
In 2020, Milashina was attacked alongside another lawyer, Marina Dubrovina, when they came to Grozny to observe the trial of Islam Nukhanov, a blogger from the town of Kogalzm in the Tumen Oblast, charged with possession of a weapon. He was detained by Chechen police since November 2019 after he posted a video on YouTube, with footage allegedly taken near the residence of the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov.
The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers provide that “where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities” (Principle 17).News