Perhaps Russia’s prosecutors and their silovik owners are packing in the fun before Vladimir Putin moves over to the premiership and Dmitry Medvedev assumes the presidency – but whatever is happening, legal nihilism appears to be deepening in Russia since the election, not abating. Case in point, today the Moscow Times reports that the lawyer Boris Kuznetsov is being charged in absentia with divulging state secrets, though he is safely living in political asylum in the United States. His lawyer Viktor Parshutkin is quoted in the article: “The charges against Kuznetsov are groundless. According to Russian law, any document that testifies that someone’s rights were violated cannot be a government secret.” Kuznetsov faces this farce of a trial for doing nothing beyond carrying out his lawful duty to defend his client, the former Sen. Levon Chakhmakhchyan, who was the target of a bribery investigation sting operation by the FSB. Kuznetsov later filed a complaint that the state security officials were using an illegal wiretap against Chakhmakhchyan, which was the beginning of all these problems (see my post from last summer). With the possible exception of Musharraf’s Pakistan, it is hard to think of a more dangerous or hostile environment for lawyers than Russia.
As Kuznetsov told Reuters last summer, any lawyer who refuses to stay silent and who is brave enough to defend someone against the actions of the state “is made to feel uncomfortable.” Very uncomfortable, judging by what the Kremlin has done to Vasily Aleksanyan (nearly murdered by medical blackmail), Svetlana Bakhmina (held in prison away from her children for no reason), and even Karinna Moskalenko (whom they attempted to disbar).Not a day goes by that I don’t forget how fortunate I am that I was only forcefully expelled from Russia, rather than subjected to the harsh fate seen by so many of my Russian colleagues.The case of Kuznetsov has very nothing to do with whether or not his client Chakhmakhchyan is guilty or innocent of the charges, but rather shows the lengths to which the FSB is willing to instrumentalize the law to punish anyone who questions their power, embarrasses them by exposing misconduct, or who question them about assets they have stolen. This level of personal vendettas involving the FSB doesn’t even start or stop with the Yukos legal team, but it is something seen from to the top to the bottom.We should all continue to monitor the Kuznetsov developments and not allow the Russian government to continue persecuting innocent lawyers in silence.