While the main attention of the international community is focused on the large-scale atrocities of the Russian army on the mainland of Ukraine, the ongoing gross violations of human rights in occupied Crimea must not go unnoticed.
On August 4, 2022, the Bar of the Chechen Republic deprived Lilia Hemedzhi, Rustem Kiamiliev, and Nazim Sheikhmambetov of their lawyer status. According to the lawyers, the decision was adopted without actual notification of the meeting by the relevant qualification commission, and the lawyer status was terminated at the request of a government agency, not at a client’s complaint as it is usually done in legal practice.
The decision unables Crimean lawyers to defend their clients in criminal cases and deprives them of the right to take the exam for re-acquisition of lawyer status within a year. As a result of the arbitrariness of the occupiers, at least 16 Crimean political prisoners may remain without proper legal assistance, including citizen journalists Server Mustafayev, Ruslan Suleymanov, Amet Suleymanov, and pro-Ukrainian activist Oleh Prykhodko.
In addition, the deprivation of the professional status of independent lawyers against the background of toughened reprisals creates a threatening situation in occupied Crimea, when any victim of human rights violations may find themselves without legal assistance. Instead, victims of political persecution may be provided with the services of a designated lawyer who works closely with the FSB or other occupying power agencies. Such actions lead to a systematic violation of the right to a fair trial, which includes the right to defend oneself in person or through legal assistance of own choosing and is guaranteed by Art. 6 (3)(c) of the European Convention on Human Rights and Art. 14 (3)(d) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Depriving Lilia Hemedzhi, Rustem Kiamiliev, and Nazim Sheikhmambetov of their lawyer status is not the first manifestation of systemic pressure on independent lawyers who defend victims of political reprisals in occupied Crimea. In January 2017, FSB officers searched the apartment of lawyer Emil Kurbedinov. Moreover, Kurbedinov was placed in administrative detention twice on politically motivated charges in January 2017 and December 2018. In November 2021, lawyer Edem Semedliayev was fined and placed in administrative detention on politically motivated charges. In May 2022, four lawyers – Edem Semedliayev, Nazim Sheikhmambetov, Ayder Azamatov, and Emine Avamilieva – were unlawfully detained. Later, Edem Semedliayev was again fined under a fabricated administrative case, and three other lawyers spent several days in administrative detention.
Intimidation, pressure, and harassment of lawyers because of their professional activities are unacceptable. This practice runs counter to international standards and national legislation, which establishes guarantees for representatives of legal professions. Unlawful detentions of lawyers grossly violate the “Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers”, adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime (1990), which guarantee the lawyers unimpeded performance of their functions (without intimidation, improper interference, and prosecution for professional actions).
The Ukrainian human rights organizations once again state that new forms of political reprisals in occupied Crimea and mass atrocities by Russian troops on the mainland of Ukraine could have been avoided if the international community had reacted more decisively to the Russian occupation of Crimea and the invasion of Donbas in 2014.
Against the background of the Russian Federation’s many years of ignoring almost all norms of international law, the only way to stop arbitrariness and release political prisoners, prevent new war crimes, crimes against humanity, and gross violations of human rights in Crimea is the de-occupation of the peninsula with the help of existing diplomatic, sanctions, and legal measures, including the right to individual self-defense, provided for in Art. 51 of the UN Charter.
In this regard, we call on the governments of foreign states and international organizations, in particular the International Crimea Platform participants, to:
- Condemn strongly and in concert the reprisals against lawyers in occupied Crimea
- Impose personal restrictive measures on persons involved in gross violations of human rights in occupied Crimea, including FSB officers, judges, investigators, heads of penitentiary institutions, etc.
- Provide comprehensive support to victims of political reprisals in Crimea and their families
- Continue to monitor and document human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in occupied Crimea and highlight them in regular reports on the human rights situation in Ukraine
- Assist the Government of Ukraine in investigating war crimes, crimes against humanity, and gross violations of human rights in occupied Crimea
- Increase diplomatic, sanctions, and other pressure on the Russian Federation to prevent new atrocities in Crimea and the mainland of Ukraine, as well as speed up the de-occupation of all territories of Ukraine
Center for Civil Liberties
Human Rights Centre ZMINA
“Almenda” Civic Education Center
Human Rights Center “Action”
Advocacy Advisory Panel
Crimean Human Rights Group