Russia seeks to strip a fourth lawyer of his licence after jailing him for defending Ukrainian political prisoners
The Russian-controlled ‘police’ in occupied Crimea to try to get renowned Russian lawyer Alexei Ladin stripped of his licence. This is purportedly because of his 14-day jail sentence and fine over Facebook posts, however it was evident from the outset that the posts were a mere pretext for bringing administrative charges against a lawyer actively engaged in defending Ukrainian political prisoners and civilian hostages. It now seems likely that all of this was about punishing, and effectively silencing, yet another courageous lawyer. If the move were to be successful, Ladin would be the fourth lawyer helping victims of repression in occupied Crimea to be deprived of his licence. It is doubtless no coincidence that Ladin was detained, ‘convicted’ and jailed on the same day that the Russian enforcement bodies arrested three lawyers defending Russia’s most famous political prisoner, Alexei Navalny. A fourth lawyer understood the warning, and swiftly left the country, with all of this leaving Navalny without proper legal defence. The same tactics are clearly visible in occupied Crimea with the lawyers most active in defending Russia’s ever-mounting number of political prisoners under direct and extremely menacing attack.
Ladin is registered with the Tyumen Bar Association and it is only that body’s commission which has the authority to decide whether Ladin is to be considered guilty of a disciplinary infringement. It remains to be seen whether Ladin’s colleagues in Tyumen will have the courage to acknowledge that the charges against him were politically motivated and refuse to take part in another political act of vengeance by denying him his licence.
As reported, Alexei Ladin was detained early on 13 October, having just returned from Rostov in Russia where he was representing Yaroslav Zhuk and Pavlo Zaporozhets, two Ukrainians seized in occupied Melitopol and Kherson, tortured and facing long sentences on fabricated charges.
The officers from Russia’s so-called ‘centre for countering extremism’ carried out a search of the lawyer’s apartment in Sevastopol, containing information which should be strictly between Ladin and his clients. Ladin’s lawyers (and colleagues) Emil Kurbedinov and Edem Semedlyaev numerous violations of Ladin’s rights, including the fact that the officers from the ‘anti-extremism centre’ had no permit for any kind of open or covert search and operation measures against Ladin.
Kurbedinov further notes that, in this way, Ladin has been prevented from carrying out his duties in several important cases, one of which is at very late ‘debate’ stage. Ladin himself is in no doubt that he is being persecuted for his professional activities.
The charges against him were ostentatiously absurd with the pretext for the 14-day term of administrative arrest being an innocuous repost of a picture by Crimean Tatar political prisoner Ismail Ramazanov, back in 2018. Not only had the Russian occupation ‘enforcement bodies’ waited over five years, but they also came up with a demonstrably false claim to justify accusing Ladin of having posted the symbol of a ‘prohibited organization’ (under Article 20.3 § 1 of Russia’s code of administrative offences). The image which Ramazanov had drawn while imprisoned intertwined the national symbols of Ukraine and of the Crimean Tatar people, neither of which are ‘prohibited’ even by Russia. The claim that this was a symbol of the Noman Çelebicihan Battalion, a peaceful, civilian organization which Russia’s supreme court quite unwarrantly declared ‘terrorist’ in June 2022. There were no grounds for this assertion, as proven by the fact that Russia had begun concocting prosecutions of Crimean Tatars on charges of involvement in the Battalion back in 2018 and would almost certainly have used the picture as an excuse for accusing Ramazanov of involvement in it.
During the appeal hearing before the occupation ‘Crimean high court’ on 17 October, Ladin’s lawyers by the ‘centre for countering extremism’. This was, predictably, to no avail and ‘judge’ Vladimir Agin rejected the appeal against Ladin 14-day term of imprisonment. Agin also ignored the fact that Ladin himself had asked to take part in the hearing, with the holding facility where he is imprisoned literally just across the road from the court building.
On 13 December, two administrative protocols were drawn up by ant-‘extremism’ officer Roman Filatov – the one on symbols of ‘prohibited organizations’ and a second under Article 20.3.3 § 1 (of the same administrative code). The charge about ‘discrediting’ was passed into law ten days after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and is aimed solely at silencing those who tell the truth about Russian atrocities, etc. on Ukrainian territory, as well as any person who speaks out against Russian aggression. The charge was over comments posted anonymously, although possibly from a lawyer in Moscow, about the war. This mentions that there “are again reports that Ukrainian cities are being bombed. The Ukrainian Armed Forces have caught the pilot of one of Putin’s bomber planes. He lies that he didn’t know what sites he was bombing. They show unexploded cluster munitions RS30 ‘Smerch’ and ‘Hurricane’, lying in the middle of Kharkiv. Their use is a war crime since they guarantee indiscriminate strikes in built-up city areas”. This was reposted by Alexei Ladin in March 2022, under the hashtag #НЕТВОЙНЕ [#No to the war].
Ladin was brought before the occupation ‘Kievsky district court’ in Simferopol, with two separate ‘hearings’ during which ‘judges’ Alexei Mikitiuk and Yekaterina Chumachenko found them ‘guilty’ of both charges. A reposted image from one of his clients was deemed sufficient to warrant a 14-year sentence, and he was fined 45 thousand roubles over the above anti-war repost.
Russia has thus far prosecuted and, in almost all cases, jailed six lawyers in occupied Crimea who actively defend Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners. There have been four attempts to have these same lawyers stripped of their licence, with only the attempt against Kurbedinov rejected.
Emil Kurbedinov was the first to be imprisoned back in 2017 on absurd charges over a video posted before Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He has on a number of occasions since been detained or faced other forms of harassment. Edem Semedlyaev had also faced harassment earlier and was then, in November 2021, jailed on grotesque charges for 12 days (see Crimean Tatar lawyer jailed and fined for defending client and refusing to strip naked ). The offensive against lawyers has become ever more ferocious, and dirty, with three Crimean Tatar lawyers – Lilia Hemedzhy; her husband Rustem Kyamilev and Nazim Sheikhmambetov stripped of their licence in August 2022 (see: Russia strips three Crimean Tatar lawyers of their licence to prevent them defending political prisoners