Svetlana Bakhmina, Karinna Moskalenko, and myself are certainly not the only lawyers to fall victim to the threats and harassment of the Russian procuracy-general and its increasing willingness to persecute lawyers for simply doing their jobs. Today’s news that the highly regarded lawyer Boris Kuznetsov is fleeing Russia after an absurdly baseless order for his arrest under the allegation of “revealing state secrets” represents yet another outrageous example of the state’s abuse of the legal system. The arrest order stems from Kuznetsov’s defense of Duma member Levon Chakhmakhchyan, who had been illegally wiretapped by the FSB without court permission in an effort to purge him on corruption charges. It seems beyond arguable doubt that there are influential individuals within Russia’s intelligence services that believe that once they are unable to defeat an opponent through legal means, that attacking that person’s counsel is a perfectly acceptable tactic.
According to the Reuters story on the incident:
Kuznetsov said the moves by prosecutors against him were “revenge” for daring to take on powerful people in law enforcement agencies and the Federal Security Service (FSB) in particular. A spokesman for the FSB declined to comment. “Lawyers are the last bastion before Russian lawlessness which is flourishing in the absence of a normally functioning and independent judicial system,” Kuznetsov said. “Those lawyers who are not silent, those lawyers who refuse to submit, those lawyers who have a humanitarian position, those lawyers who defend people are made to feel uncomfortable.”
We cannot continue to assist in the manufacture of excuses for the ongoing hostility toward the legal profession in Russia. The arrest order for Kuznetsov deserves an immediate response from governments, civil society, and observers, and the recognition that any legal decision coming from today’s thoroughly politicized procuracy-general can no longer be granted the presumption of regularity – much less any credibility or legitimacy.