Overview of political repression in Russia (February, 2017)

Unprecedented pressure on lawyers and attorneys was probably the main trend in February. The number of misconduct cases on the part of law enforcement officers and unidentified civilians was rising along with the degree and the form of pressure.

  • Thus, on January 25 after the end of a court hearing on the People’s Will Army case, there was a confrontation between Tverskoy District Court security officers and defence counsel Alexey Sukhanov during which the lawyer’s head was banged against a metal safe so that he had to be taken to hospital with a concussion. This happened following his attempts to protect civil rights activist Elena Rokhlina when “security officers grabbed her” and started throwing things out of her handbag. The security officers were convinced that she had no right to report what was going on in the courtroom or post photos on social media sites.   
  • Another story worth mentioning is the case of defence counsel Emil Kurbedinov, although it also began in late January. Zheleznodorozhniy District Court of Simferopol (Crimea) found him guilty of an offence stipulated by Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences (“Propaganda or public demonstration of extremist organizations attributes or symbols”) and put him in detention for 10 days on the grounds that he had published forbidden materials in a popular Russian social network VKontakte.  Emil Kurbedinov represented defendants in a number of high-profile court cases including the case of violent confrontations in Simferopol on February 26, 2014, the case against Hizb ut-Tahrir Muslim Brotherhood which is outlawed in Russia, the case against the Crimean journalist Nikolay Semena accused of separatism, and the case against Ilmi Umerov – the Deputy Chairman of Crimean Tartar Mejlis charged with the same offence as Semena.
  • On February 1, Svetlana Yashina, a defence lawyer collaborating with the Territory of Torture project, was beaten up by police officers at Lyubereckoe Police Station.  Svetlana and another defence counsel arrived at the police station to meet their clients Feiziev and Abdullayev who had been detained for committing an administrative offence. At first the counsels were told that no such detainees had been delivered to the station. Later it turned out that they were in the CID chief’s office, but the latter refused to let the counsels meet their clients. According to Svetlana, the police officers started kicking her out of the station. They grabbed her by the arms and legs and pulled her hair. She had to bite one of the officers in self-defence and was immediately reported for attacking him.
  • On February 8, unidentified attackers smashed Sergey Zemtsov’s car. Sergey Zemtsov defends the participants of the so called “Tractor March” in Krasnodar Region. The attack took place the day before the court hearing of the complaint filed by Zemtsov in connection with the initiation of a fraud criminal case against Tractor March activists Nikolay Borodin and Elena Petrova.
  • On February 14, the Supreme Court of Crimea upheld the decision of Kievskiy District Court of Simferopol to grant the Federal Security Service permission to interrogate defence counsel Nikolay Polozov as a witness in the case of Ilmi Umerov, the Deputy Chairman of Crimean Tartar Mejlis. The permission was granted on December 13, 2016. On January 25, Nikolay Polozov, Ilmi Umerov’s defence counsel, was detained and interrogated by Federal Security Service operatives in violation of the existing legal practice.
  • On February 15, Andrey Krekov, a lawyer who is serving his sentence in a penal settlement in Arkhangelsk Region, was sent to the punishment cell for 15 days right after he was discharged from hospital where he had spent the previous month without any reported cases of misconduct. He was supposedly punished for an incident that had taken place a month earlier. Andrey Krekov claimed that the head of the colony had violated the law because disciplinary cases must be considered within 30 days. Andrey Krekov went on a hunger strike in protest against the unlawful decision.In July 2015 Andrey Krekov was found guilty of violence against a representative of authority (under P.1 Art. 318 of the RF Criminal Code) and was sentenced to almost three years. According to the Investigation Committee, the handcuffed Andrey had bit a police officer on the hip leaving a 1cm by 1mm bite mark. The lawyer claimed that the case against him was initiated after he himself had filed a complaint against being assaulted and battered at a police station in Arkhangelsk.  
    • On February 15, police arrested defence counsel Vyacheslav Lunkov and his assistant for recording a video at a police office in Bryansk. The defence counsel represented a blogger from the town of Ramenskoye Yan Katelevsky who had appealed to the Supreme Court against the Ministry of Interior ban on taking photos and recording videos at and next to police premises. According to Lunkov, he and his assistant, a member of “Rosderzhava” citizen group Tatiana Pylypiva, were arrested in the building of the Regional Ministry of Interior Office under the pretext that Tatiana was holding a camera. The fact that the camera was switched off and did not have a battery was not taken into consideration.  Lunkov and Pylypiva explained that they were seeking police officers’ help with their car which had broken down next to the police premises and suggested recording the process in order to promote a positive image of the police. However, the police officers seemed to be stressed out by Vyacheslav’s suggestion and ordered them to stop video-recording which was not even in process at that moment. In doing so they referred to Order No 11of January 11 2013, issued by Kolokoltsev, Russia’s Minister of Interior.  Two days earlier, during the Supreme Court hearing of Katelevsky’s appeal against the mentioned order, it came to light that the ban had been repealed on February 10. However, the police officers in Bryansk claimed they had not heard anything about it. Lunkov and Pylypiva were accused of having refused to comply with a lawful demand of a police officer (under Article 19.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences).

The introduction of a bill on the procedure for entering and searching defence lawyers’ premises became another significant event in the area of regulating relations between attorneys and state authorities in Russia. The bill was submitted by President Vladimir Putin to the State Duma on February 11.

The procedure introduced in the bill stipulates that attorney’s premises can only be entered and searched under a court order specifying the grounds for the search.

The bill emphasizes that during the search law enforcement officers will not be able to seize the whole bulk of attorney’s records, take pictures or film documents. Furthermore, the bill suggests amending the Criminal Procedure Code by adding a clause which would oblige preliminary investigation authorities to guarantee defence lawyers’ right to take part in investigative actions initiated at their own request or at the request of the suspect/the defendant. The bill also specifies that a defence lawyer working on a criminal case cannot be denied a request for calling a specialist in order to clarify some questions within his/her area of expertise.

The bill introduces amendments, according to which “a defence lawyer should be able to join the criminal process instead of obtaining a permission to take part in it, and in doing so he/she should obtain all procedural rights from the moment he/she joins the criminal process and not from the moment the permission is given”.

At present, many attorneys claim that law enforcement officers force them to testify against their clients by breaking into defence lawyers’ offices, and exerting unlawful and unreasonable pressure – both psychological and physical – as well as by subjecting them to various restrictive measures including, administrative arrest.

The bill was introduced in response to a collective complaint submitted to the Constitutional Court in late September 2015. It was filed by five lawyers – Alexander Balyan, Maxim Rozhkov, Sergei Nikolayev, Vladimir Parnachev, Viktor Prokhorov – and three of their clients. They challenged the provisions of Articles 29, 165 and 182 of the Code of Criminal Procedure which allowed courts of general jurisdiction to grant investigators permission to search law firms premises “with a view to find, examine and seize” documents containing privileged and confidential information about an unlimited range of clients and attorneys protected by law.