Analytics and Interview

On 16 January 2015 late in the evening the website of the Ministry of Justice published a statement that the NGO Committee Against Torture had been added to the register of non-profit organizations designated as ‘foreign agents’.
Tanya Lokshina is the Russia program director at Human Rights Watch and Honorary Participant of International Youth Human Rights Movement: As the crisis in Ukraine escalated this spring, the Kremlin’s vicious crackdown on civil society also escalated. Space for independent civic activity in Russia is shrinking dramatically, but international policymakers and the media have been understandably too distracted to do much about it. Since early spring, it seems as though every week brings a new pernicious law or legislative proposal.
Earlier this year, the correspondent of Youth Human Rights Movement from Germany Jakob Stürmann interviewed Konstantin Baranov, member of the Coordination Council of the International Youth Human Rights Movement. They discussed so called “law against homosexual propaganda” and the overall situation of LGBT in Russia.  

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Oleg Sentsov, Olexander Kolchenko, Hennadiy Afanasiev and Oleksiy Chyrniy have been held in Russian jails for two years already under fabricated charges of ‘terrorism’. We consider it being necessary to express solidarity with those who are persecuted due to their pro-Ukrainian views, civic stand and desire for freedom in Russia-annexed Crimea.
Helsinki Committee of Armenia has published “Human Rights in Armenia 2014” Annual Report. The report reflects on the Right to Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, Torture, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, Political Persecutions, Freedom of Conscience and Religion, The Rights of the Child, Protection of Labor Rights.
«We have a few questions for you,» a border guard told Sinaver Kadyrov, a Crimean Tatar activist, at the Armyansk checkpoint in northern Crimea on Jan. 23. Kadyrov was on his way to Kherson, in southern Ukraine, to fly to Turkey for medical treatment. It was the beginning of an ordeal that ended with a local court expelling him from Crimea, his home of almost 25 years.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority It is time to sit back and reflect.

Mark Twain


Youth Human Rights Movement

As the Ministry of Justice got scared by the possible protest of the lawyers and in what it has resulted


Aleh Aheyeu was Ales Mikhalevich’s lawyer just a little more than two months. He took the risk of protecting the interests of the presidential candidate, who was accused of the mass riots. Aleh Aheyeu was among those four lawyers, who at one stroke were deprived of their licenses in February last year. In the media there were just short reports about the pressure on the defenders of the "political" accused and there were no details. One year on we talk about what was really happening.

AR: What was it like to be the lawyer in the “19 December mass riot” case?
AA: The lawyers faced a number of problems, which are quite unusual for our work: it was also impossible to meet with the defendants, who were in the KGB pretrial detention center. When I went to the pretrial detention center, its employees told me that there were no free rooms for meetings. There was a public interest to this problem. As I could, I explained to journalists why I can not see my client. At the end of December the Justice Department started putting pressure on the most talkative lawyers, because of the KGB, which had not liked that such information had been publicized.

The man tells the truth: I am not allowed to meet with the defendant. The Ministry of Justice demands a contradiction. How can this information be exploded? To say that I am allowed to meet him? But, they do not let me! Like in the Soviet times, when we had to sign up for the queue and our queue numbers were checked. And now there is a queue of lawyers. It is a paradox: the lawyers working on the economic crimes were allowed, while those, who worked on the “19 December mass riot” cases, had to wait through days.

AR: Why were you under the pressure?
AA: One of the most innocuous interviews of mine was considered by the Ministry of Justice as a negative assessment of the work of the KGB pretrial detention center. In addition, I was a member of the Presidium of the Minsk City Bar. And the Presidium considered the request of the Ministry of Justice to bring to responsibility the four lawyers. There were hot debates. The Presidium, though not unanimously, took the side of the colleagues. The Presidium made a decision to refuse the imposition of disciplinary liability to all four lawyers, because there were no grounds for it, and this decision was sent to the Ministry of Justice.

AR: How did it end?
AA: Three out of the seven lawyers deprived of their licenses were members of the Presidium. The checking of the Presidium members started immediately. In January I got a visit from the KGB – they tried to seize my documents. And, as far I know, it was the same department that dealt with Mikhalevich. We did not give anything to the KGB workers, because of the client-lawyer privilege. Later on the same day the employee of the Ministry of Justice came, took everything and, as far as I can suppose, gave everything to the KGB.

AR: Can you refuse the Ministry of Justice?
AA: The Ministry of Justice is our registration authority; it is entitled to such kind of inspections. That is everything about the independence of the legal profession in our country. As soon as my documents were seized, one of my recent clients, a drug addict, wrote a complaint to the KGB chairman on the fact that I had extorted money from him, promising a non-custodial sentence. Isn’t it a strange coincidence?

AR: Yes!
AA: Frankly speaking, this client is just not able already to use such formulations as "to extort money by false pretences". I knew that it could all end badly for me and such a complaint could be considered. I was in a dull mood about it all.

A few days before his release, Mikhalevich was called in for questioning. At the same time the Ministry of Justice held a meeting and I was deprived of my license. I went to the KGB building being a lawyer and when I left it I was not already one.

During all this time I had 3 conversations with the KGB worker and he offered directly "to assist in collecting evidence". I reacted quite negatively and informed the higher authorities about a possible misconduct. However, I do not know about the fate of this document.

AR: Does it mean that they tried to stop the flow of information?
AA: Yes, and they succeeded in it. After all these I and my colleagues became more careful, we almost ceased to communicate with the media. The Ministry of Justice achieved it in one month.

AR: But if the lawyers stopped speaking, why were they deprived of their licenses?
AA: The lawyers did not stop speaking and writing complaints. The public was not informed anymore, but the authorities responsible for inspections were informed. It is not possible to do nothing at all, when a lawyer does not see his client and does not know what is happening to him and where he is. For example, I found out accidentally about my client, Ales Mikhalevich. I met with my colleague and he asked me if my client had been transferred to Valadarka prison. I asked him where he had got such information and he explained that his defendant complained that that night he had not slept, because the political prisoner was brought to their sell and it had been Ales Mikhalevich. I went there and without any problems met with him. However, we had only 15 minutes of talk, because the prison was getting closed. But at least I saw him personally. On Monday he was moved back for some reasons.

AR: How could you avoid these problems?
AA: To sit quietly, to pretend that you are working: to come for a questioning, to sign the protocol of interrogation and to leave. Of course, such lawyers had no problems. Perhaps now they got some awards and diplomas for their quality work.
I think that the Ministry of Justice was even a bit scared by such an open confrontation, which the Presidium started. The Presidium was newly elected.

AR: newly elected...
AA: It is not the reason. When one is asked to do something stupid, everything depends on how much he respects himself.

AA: I appealed against the deprivation of my license in the court. At that time the State Security Committee (KGB) was thinking what to do with the damaging evidence, which it had collected on me. A great work had been done. During the second part of January and February, I've saw how the operational activities took place: outdoor surveillance, telephone did not work properly, the documents got lost. There were many things that showed that they were working on my case. A serious agency, the Republican Department on Fighting against Corruption, was working on my case. Everything they could find was just papers not properly filled in one of the cases, on which I worked with my mother. It turned out that we were intentionally distorting the financial statements of a group of people and filled in false information into official documents. All these resulted into a criminal case under article 380 part 2 – forgery of documents. We were fined minimally. It took two months for the city court to decide what to do with our appeal. But in the end it was not satisfied.

By Alina Radachynskaya