Lawyers on Russian FSB hitlist for defending Crimean Tatar political prisoners
A ‘court’ in Russian-occupied Crimea has formally disbarred two prominent human rights lawyers defending Russia’s ever-increasing number of political prisoners. The move to strip them of their licence and political prisoners of their chosen lawyers, which began in August 2022, is the latest of many acts of repression against Crimean Tatar lawyers and one that sets a particularly dangerous precedent.
Rustem Kyamilev and his wife, Lilia Hemedzhy are surely correct in assuming that Russia’s FSB are behind the efforts to strip them of their professional licences. It is, however, disturbing that the FSB should have been abetted in this, not only by an occupation ‘court’, but by the ‘Crimea Bar Association’ which should be representing the interests both of the lawyers and of their clients.
It was learned on 4 August 2022 that Lilia Hemedzhy, Rustem Kyamilev and Nazim Sheikhmambetov had been stripped of their lawyers’ licence. The move was by the Chechen Bar Association, at the request of Chechnya’s justice ministry, in July that year, with the two men not informed at all of the planned meeting of the qualification commission, while Hemedzhy was told literally one day in advance. All three learned that they had been disbarred several days after those meetings.
Graty correspondents Lutfiye Zudiyeva and Anton Naumliuk with Hemedzhy and Kyamilev and probed the methods used to disbar two lawyers actively involved in representing political prisoners and highlighting the flawed charges and fabricated ‘evidence’ used against them. These culminated in an occupation ‘court ruling’ at the end of March removing the lawyers’ licence, with this formally at the request of the local bar association.
All three lawyers had effectively been forced to obtain their licence from the Chechen Bar Association, and Hemedzhy had been actively obstructed when she first tried to obtain it in occupied Crimea. The three had subsequently tried to transfer to the ‘Crimean Bar Association’, but had their applications unlawfully rejected, with this later used as an excuse to disbar them. The lawyers are convinced that the FSB is seeking in this way to get rid of lawyers who refuse to ‘cooperate’ with them and instead actively defend their clients.
Kyamilev passed the qualification exam and received lawyer status from the Chechen Bar Association in 2018, with his wife qualifying there in 2019.
In order to transfer to the ‘Crimean Bar Association’, they needed to hand in the licence documents issued in Chechnya. Such a transfer to the place where the lawyers live and work should have been a mere formality. Instead, the applications for transfer were rejected, but their membership of the Chechen Bar Association was not reinstated. The ‘Crimean Bar Association had taken several months to ‘consider’ the applications, this being longer than the stipulated period, with that used in August 2022 as the pretext for stripping them of their licences.
Kyamilev and Hemedzhy lodged an appeal with the ‘court’, calling the ‘Crimean Bar Association’s’ decision discriminatory. While knowing that their chances of success were minimal, given the pressure placed on all bodies of power by the FSB and police, Kyamilev explains that they were determined to demonstrate the commissioned nature of their persecution. “This is an attack on the independence of the bar”, he stresses.
It should be noted that, in December 2022, the Federal Bar Association revoked the decision passed on 15 July by the Chechen Bar Association to strip Hemedzhy of her licence. This was, unfortunately, only for technical reasons, and the application (from the Chechnya justice ministry) is due to be considered again after the hearings in occupied Crimea end.
Kyamilev and Hemedzhy were represented during the two months of hearings by by colleagues Aleksei Ladin and Sergei Loktev at the occupation ‘Zheleznodorozhny district court’ in Simferopol, under ‘judge’ Iryna Litovskaya.
The vice-president of the occupation ‘Crimean Bar Association’, Vladimir Khalaimov, played an active role in this unwarranted attack on his colleagues. He claimed that both Hemedzhy and Kyamilev had received their licences unlawfully, and lodged a ‘counter suit’ against theirs, with the lawyers themselves, and the Chechen Bar Association, named as respondents.
Worth noting that ‘judge’ Litovskaya initially refused to accept such a ‘counterclaim’, asking questions that made the lack of any grounds for it quite clear. She also pointed to the absurdity of one bar association disputing the decision of another, and likened it to one court disputing the legitimacy of another court’s ruling.
Khalaimov turned up at the next hearing, again wanting to lodge a counterclaim. The only thing that had changed was that he added a demand that the originals of the documents issued in Chechnya should be submitted. This had not been demanded before, and notarized copies had been sufficient.
That, unfortunately, proved to not be the only difference from the previous hearing. On this occasion, Litovskaya accepted the counterclaim, despite all the reasons for rejecting it that she herself had articulated remaining in force.
On 20 March 2023, Litovskaya revoked the licences of both Hemedzhy and Kyamilev and ordered them to pay 30 thousand roubles in court duty. She had thus fully allowed the ‘Crimean Bar Association’s’ demands. Both lawyers plan to lodge an appeal. In Kyamilev’s words, “They are, in this way, weeding out independent lawyers who try to uphold truth in court, showing the lack of any grounds for certain criminal cases. There is no evidence here, there is political commissioning. They are opening Pandora’s Box. “
Virtually all Crimean Tatar lawyers, defending political prisoners, have faced some degree of persecution and harassment in occupied Crimea, with several, including Emil Kurbedinov; Edem Semedlayev, Aider Azamatov; Emine Avamileva and Nazim Sheikhambetov jailed detained, fined and even jailed on preposterous administrative charges.
There were never any grounds for the prosecutions, but the ‘judges’ clearly understood who had commissioned them and passed the sentences demanded. The same has happened here, but on an even more frightening scale with lawyers stripped of their licence for defending victims of persecution. The lawyers are continuing to represent them, but only as civic defenders, not as the political prisoners’ lawyers.