Dangerous offensive against lawyer defending Crimean Tatar political prisoners
A Russian court has refused to revoke a formal court complaint that could lead to renowned human rights lawyer Lilya Hemedzhi being stripped of her licence to practice. The Military Court of Appeal in the Moscow Region rejected the defence’s application to see the extract from the court decision which supposedly proved Hemedzhi’s ‘guilt’, while the transcript of the court hearing has still not been prepared, making it effectively impossible to demonstrate what had actually happened. The rejection of Hemedzhi’s appeal on 28 October was largely anticipated, but cannot be tolerated and Hemedzhi and her colleague, Edem Semedlyaev, plan to take her case to the European Court of Human Rights. Such a formal complaint aimed at getting disciplinary measures brought against a lawyer is, after all, not just an attack on Hemedzhi herself, but an attempt to silence all lawyers who properly defend their clients in political trials.
The worrying pressure was recognized by the EU Office in Russia which issued a message on Twitter, expressing “concern over the pressure on defence lawyer Lilya Hemedzhi. The separate court complaint issued against her could lead to Ms Hemedzhi being stripped of her lawyer status. We value the efforts of those who defend Crimean Tatars and call on the authorities to stop persecuting lawyers”.
The court complaint was issued during one of the shocking hearings in Russia’s ‘trial’ of eight Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists. Hemedzhi represented Server Mustafayev, Crimean Solidarity Coordinator and civic journalist, recognized political prisoner and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. While this was a political trial which cannot, by definition, be fair, the defendants and their lawyers were determined to demonstrate the lack of any justification for the charges. This clearly irritated presiding judge Rizvan Zubairov, who, together with judges Roman Saprunov and Maxim Nikitin from the Southern District Military Court in Rostov (Russia), were raring to get to the predetermined and horrific sentences passed on 16 September. On countless occasions, Zubairov made no attempt to conceal his lack of interest in any evidence demonstrating the men’s innocence and constantly had one, two or, on one occasion, all of the defendants removed from their own trial.
During the 60th hearing on 11 August 2020, Zubairov had Mustafayev expelled until the end of the trial. This was after Mustafayev tried, perfectly politely, to object when Zubairov refused to allow four defence witnesses to give testimony once it was ascertained that they had nothing to say against the defendants.
There was even an attempt by court bailiffs to get administrative charges drawn up against Hemedzhi and another lawyer after they sought to consult with Mustafayev, as his lawyers must, after a break was called. On that occasion the bailiffs backed down.
A week later, on 17 August, Zubairov turned on Hemedzhi. He had ignored her when she asked, three times, for permission to react to the prosecutor’s dismissal of important testimony. After the third request was ignored, Hemedzhi said “I take your silence as a sign of consent, your honour”
Zubairov then responded by shouting at Hemedzhi to sit down and withdrawing to the judges’ consulting chamber to draw up a separate ruling in the form of a complaint to the Chechnya Bar Chamber where Hemedzhi is registered, for the latter to decide on disciplinary measures. Hemedzhi told ‘Crimean Solidarity’ that she is convinced that the court was deliberately heading towards issuing such a separate ruling. She said that Zubairov had spoken very unclearly and that it had been hard to hear most of the ‘infringements’ that he was accusing Hemedzhi of. It now transpires that an ‘excerpt’ which was not explained at the time was, in fact, attached to this ‘case’ and will presumably be sent to the Chechnya Bar Chamber. The transcript of the proceedings, on the other hand, is not available, meaning that only Zubairov’s point of view will be seen.
This is not the first time that courts have put pressure on lawyers representing Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners. There has been pressure on Russian lawyer Nikolai Polozov, and persecution of renowned Crimean Tatar human rights lawyer Emil Kurbedinov, with the latter twice detained and briefly jailed on absurd charges, as well as attempts to get him stripped of his licence (which thankfully failed).
It was after seeing how inundated lawyers like Kurbedinov were becoming because of the mounting repression under Russian occupation that Lilya Hemedzhi decided to obtain a licence to work as a defence lawyer. She was obstructed on all kinds of pretexts in occupied Crimea, including the claim that she could not get her licence because of her hijab. She managed to arrange with the Bar Chamber in Chechnya and took all the exams and registered there. Like Kurbedinov, Hemedzhi has earned international respect for her work in occupied Crimea and she was honoured by the Dutch Government with its Human Rights Tulip award for 2019.
See details about the ‘trial’ and monstrous sentences against Server Mustafayev and the other men here: