The Russian Federation: use of physical force against lawyer must be investigated

The ICJ has called on the Russian authorities to institute a thorough and independent investigation into the use of physical force against lawyer Dmitry Sotnikov by court officials and subsequently by the police on 12 September in two separate but linked incidents, and to hold accountable those responsible for the attacks.

The authorities should take effective measures to prevent such attacks in the future, and to ensure that lawyers are not prevented from representing their clients in accordance with law, the ICJ said.

“This use of physical force used against a lawyer solely because he tried to zealously defend his client is contrary to international human rights law and standards, including on the role of lawyers,” Temur Shakirov, Senior Legal Adviser of the ICJ Europe and Central Asia Programme said today.

“It is also of concern that Dmitry Sotnikov was not allowed to represent his client despite clear legal provisions under the law guaranteeing the right to independent legal advice and representation,” he added.

 On 12 September, Dmitriy Sotnikov, a Moscow-based lawyer, came to Tula region to represent a client charged with drug trafficking in a hearing at the Novomoskovsk District Court.

Upon entering the courtroom, after having notified the judge that he would be 10 minutes late, Dmitriy Sotnikov reportedly announced that he represented his client Eduard Dolgintsev, presented his licence and a warrant of attorney; he was then told by the judge to sit down.

As he tried to ask one of the key witnesses a question, the judge told him she had never authorized his participation as a lawyer in the proceedings.

In response to this, Sotnikov referred to his rights of audience as a lawyer necessary to fulfill his duties as the legitimate legal representative of his client; however, the judge said Dmitriy Sotnikov was disturbing the court, ordered him to leave the courtroom, and then abruptly announced a recess.

After the recess, Sotnikov was blocked by a court officer from entering the court room. When he attempted to enter the room again, he was pushed face down by the officer and handcuffed.

Thereafter, he was detained by the police, taken to a drug treatment centre, purportedly to ascertain whether he tested positive for drug use, and then brought to the investigative department for questioning.

Reportedly, later that night, after having spent eight hours in the local department of the Investigative Committee without being officially registered, Dmitriy Sotnikov inquired whether he was officially in custody.

On being told that he was not, he attempted to leave and was reportedly again attacked, this time by investigators, who beat him on the head and slammed a door shut on his fingers.

Sotnikov’s lawyer, Svetlana Zavodtsova – who had arrived at the local department of the Investigative Committee to represent Dmitriy Sotnikov – was recording on video on her mobile phone which was taken from her by force while the video of the incident she had recorded was deleted.

The ICJ stresses that in order to fulfill their function lawyers must be able to act without fear and free from fear of reprisals of any kind.

“No justice can be delivered unless the parties to the court process are fully protected and lawyers are able to discharge their functions without harassment, or attack”, Shakirov added. It is now essential for the credibility of the judicial system that the assaults against Dmitry Sotnikov is promptly, thoroughly and independently investigated and that those responsible are brought to justice, the ICJ emphasized.

Additional information

The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers in its Article 19, specify that “[n]o court or administrative authority before whom the right to counsel is recognized shall refuse to recognize the right of a lawyer to appear before it for his or her client unless that lawyer has been disqualified in accordance with national law and practice and in conformity with these principles”.

Under Article 49.4 of the Criminal Procedure Code of the Russian Federation a lawyer is recognized as the legitimate legal representative of a defendant in a criminal case upon presenting her or his licence and a warrant of attorney; once this is done lawyers enjoy the rights of audience necessary to fulfill their professional duties.

Dmitriy Sotnikov has reportedly sustained injuries from both incidents, and is presently on sick leave undergoing medical treatment for the same.

The ICJ has previously raised concerns at violence and intimidations against Russian lawyers.

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