The Russian Federation: the ICJ calls for an end to intimidation and prosecution of lawyers

The ICJ today called for an end to criminal proceedings against Dagir Hasavov, a prominent Russian lawyer facing prosecution on allegations of obstruction of justice.

On 17 September, less than a week after lawyer Dmitriy Sotnikov was physically attacked in court, Dagir Hasavov was detained by police in the Lefortovo court building in Moscow. He was charged with “obstruction of justice” and “bribery or coercion to testify or evasion of giving evidence” (articles 294.1 and 309.4 of the Russian Criminal Code).  On 18 September, Moscow Basmanny court authorised the detention of Hasavov until 16 November.

“There are strong indications that these charges are spurious and that the arrest of Dagir Hasavov is an attempt to obstruct him in carrying out his professional duties, and to prevent his clients from having a fair trial. The proceedings should be discontinued and he should be immediately released.” said Róisín Pillay, ICJ Europe and Central Asia Programme Director.  “Such arrests also send a clear message of intimidation to other lawyers. Without urgent measures to end harassment of lawyers, the ability of the legal profession to protect human rights will be increasingly jeopardized”.

Dagir Khasavov represented the former Dagestan Prime Minister Abdusamad Hamidov, who was detained together with his deputy Rayudin Yusufov by the FSB in February 2018 as part of a special anti-corruption operation and was charged with multiple criminal offences, including embezzlement.

Prosecutors allege that Dagir Hasavov threatened Albert Havchaev, a witness in the trial, and attempted to coerce him to testify in court for the benefit of the defence. Hasavov’s home was also searched.

Eduard Isetskiy, another lawyer of the former Dagestan Prime Minister, has stated that after the arrest of Hasavov he and other colleagues were told by investigators that they would face similar prosecution. He added that towards the end of a trial, about a week before the Hasavov’s arrest, the State Prosecutor on the case was replaced and the courtroom became increasingly surrounded with armed and masked security forces. The new prosecutor called lawyers “extremists” and filed a motion to have all their social networks accounts blocked.

Any criminal proceedings against the lawyer amounting to harassment or reprisals for his professional activities would constitute not only an assault on the legal profession in the Russian Federation, but also a violation of the right to a fair trial, protected under international human rights law.

Moreover, international standards on the rights of lawyers, including the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, provide that governments must ensure that lawyers “are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference” and “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.”

The ICJ stresses that these attacks, arrests and criminal proceedings that have been taking place in Russia lately, create a chilling effect on the proper exercise of professional duties by lawyers, endangering the right to a fair trial and undermining the justice system.

Additional information:

Dagir Hasavov is a prominent lawyer in Russia who has taken many cases dealing with allegations of religious extremism or terrorism. He has defended among others the Moscow imam Mahmud Velitov, convicted for justification of terrorism; the former representative of the President in Sakhalin oblast charged with extremism; several persons accused of participation in Hizb ut-Tahrir, the organization banned in Russia. He also represented pro bono the parents of a murdered 5-year-old Tajik girl Huvaido Tillozoda.

It has been reported that around 100 lawyers are joining together to defend Hasavov as the Russian legal community has realized the need for corporate solidarity in the face of the increasing threats to the security of lawyers and independence of the profession.

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