Statement on the Conviction of Human Rights Laywer Vladimir Prokhorov
Vladimir Prokhorov, a Russian human rights lawyer known for defending Putin’s opponents, has fled the Russian Federation in May 2023 after being threatened in the courtroom. Mr Prokhorov had publicly made statements about the closed trial of his friend and client Mr Kara-Murza, who is convicted for treason and sentenced to prison for 25 years.
Lawyers for Lawyers heard that both the judge and the prosecutor in the Kara-Murza case accused Mr Prokhorov of leaking secret data from the case and warned that he might face criminal proceedings. Since the Russian invasion in Ukraine, Mr Prokhorov and conveners who act as lawyers of political opponents of the Russian regime, have been forced to leave the country. With few lawyers left to take up politically sensitive cases, Lawyers for Lawyers is worried about the role of the legal profession in protecting the rule of law.
Threats against Prokhorov since April 2023
Shortly after losing the case for his client Vladimir Kara-Murza who has been found guilty of high treason, allegedly spreading false information about the Russian army and being affiliated with an ‘undesirable organisation’ in April 2023, Mr Prokhorov publicly commented on the whereabouts in the closed trial in interviews. As his lawyer, Mr Prokhorov felt the urge to be his client’s public voice as the defendant had been in detention since the prosecution. Mr Prokhorov fears for the life of his friend Mr Kara-Murza when sent to jail for 25 years. During the proceedings, Mr Prokhorov tried to request withdrawal from the trial judge Serge Podoprigorov. The judge in casu had expressed himself publicly about Mr Kara-Murza’s activities, and it is well-known that the judge has a personal vendetta against Mr Kara-Murza because he contributed to the designation of Mr Podoprigorov on the Magnitsky list of human rights violators.
Upon his public remarks about the closed trial of Mr Kara-Murza, Mr Prokhorov has been accused by the judge and public prosecutor of disclosure of secret data. Mr Prokhorov also told in an interview broadcast of 3 May that he received threats by Russian public officials of being disbarred from the Russian Chamber of Lawyers and the opening of a criminal procedure against him. Not only has Mr Prokhorov taken on the case of Mr Kara-Murza, he also defended other opponents of the president and Russian regime. For instance, Mr Prokhorov has defended slain prominent opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. Because of those threats, Mr Prokhorov decided to leave his home in Moscow and finds himself now as an exile in Berlin. Lawyers for Lawyers has not yet received an update about an official criminal prosecution against Mr Prokhorov, but he has made clear that he will not return.
Appeal to the Russian authorities
Since the Russian invasion in Ukraine, many outspoken Russian lawyers have been designated as ‘foreign agent’, and consequently have been prosecuted, forced to leave the legal profession or even worse, to flee the country. Lawyers play a vital role in upholding the rule of law and the protection of human rights and their work is indispensable for public confidence in the administration of justice and to ensure access to justice for all. Because lawyers have to leave the country to protect themselves, their defendants who are facing politically motivated charges and who trials take place in closed courtrooms have to rely on public defenders. The latter are often close to state prosecutors. In this regard, the work of lawyers is extremely important as they can monitor those closed trials.
Persecution of lawyers for their lawful legal work is in violation of international standards in this area, and poses a serious threat to judicial independence, human rights, and the rule of law in the Russian Federation. Therefore, Lawyers for Lawyers further would like to draw your attention to the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and more in particular Article 16 and 18, which read:
16. Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (..) and (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.
18. Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.
In the view of the above, Lawyers for Lawyers respectfully urges the Russian authorities to:
- ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without being criminally prosecuted or disbarred, and without being intimidated.
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