Staunton, Nov. 15 – The Russian authorities are stepping up their attacks on defense lawyers, labelling those who help others charged with political crimes as foreign agents, undesirable people or even criminals themselves, according to a collective letter a group of lawyers have sent to the Federal Lawyers Chamber.
Nezavisimaya gazeta has obtained a copy of the letter, and the paper’s political correspondent, Yekaterina Trifonova says that the moves so far represent “a dangerous precedent” that they fear will soon be widely extended and make it difficult for anyone to get an adequate defense (ng.ru/politics/2021-11-15/1_8301_lawyers.html).
At present, the letter says, the justice ministry can label any lawyer who receives money from a foreign client or takes part in an international conference a foreign agent, an action that hits lawyers particularly hard because after that they cannot maintain or create their own firms but must work for someone else. In many cases, others won’t hire them.
Vladimir Kuznetsov, vice president of the Association of Lawyers dealing with bankruptcies, says that these moves by officials testify to “the growing role and professionalism of lawyers in Russia” where they have become “a strong instrument in the defense of the rights of citizens.”
Moscow lawyer Konstantin Trapaidze says that these official moves against lawyers in fact are moves against all of Russian society because “the legal profession remains the last bastion which protects the country from its complete domination by the state.” If it falls, everyone will suffer.
Among the greatest fears of Russian attorneys now is that they will be held responsible for the views of those they defend and then become subject to equivalent legal sanctions, including the loss of their ability to practice law. This is “a bad sign,” Russian attorneys say, one intended to prevent them from doing their jobs and protecting the rights Russians should have.