Right to Defense Joins the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Statement on the Unacceptability of Persecution of Lawyers

The period preceding Belarusian presidential elections in 2020, as well as after them, was marked by the unprecedented pressure on representatives of the civil community, involving lawyers. This pressure has only intensified by 2022: defenders of public activists, representatives of the political opposition and peaceful protesters are not just hindered in their work, but also subjected to arbitrary detention, criminal and administrative prosecution and disbarment in violation of international standards of advocacy, reports and recommendations of international non-governmental organizations concerning the problems of legal aid assistance in the Republic of Belarus.

Over the past month, 20 lawyers have been repressed in Belarus in one way or another. Among them are attorney Andrei Mochalov, who was deprived of his license in 2021, Alexander Danilevich, who was dismissed from the university and Vitaly Braginets, who wasn’t released after administrative arrest.

International organizations note the connection between the persecution of these attorneys and their legal support within the election process, election-related criminal cases, as well as realization of lawyers’ freedom of speech.

We fully endorse the statement of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee that lawyers, like other individuals, have the right to freedom of expression, beliefs and assembly. In particular, they have the right to participate in public discussions on issues related to law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as the right to be members of local, national or international organizations or to create them and participate in their meetings without being subjected to restriction of their professional activities due to their legitimate actions or membership in a legitimate organization.

It is obvious that the arrest and incarceration of Alexander Danilevich, the administrative arrest of Vitaly Braginets, the criminal prosecution of Andrei Mochalov have no legal grounds and are carried out in connection with the peaceful exercise of their rights under articles 19, 22 and 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom to take part in the conduct of public affairs). In addition, these cases constitute discrimination on the basis of political views in violation of article 26 of the Covenant.

We consider it necessary to refer to paragraphs 16, 18 and 23 of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers mentioned in the communication of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, which obliges Governments to ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; and 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. Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients' causes as a result of discharging their functions. Lawyers shall also enjoy civil and penal immunity for relevant statements made in good faith in written or oral pleadings or in their professional activities. 
The treatment that attorneys Vitaly Braginets, Alexander Danilevich, Andrei Mochalov are subjected to is an act of retaliation for their professional activities and is incompatible with Belarus' international legal obligations.

In connection with the above-mentioned circumstances, the editorial board of the project "Right to Defense" joins the statement of the Committee that the prosecution of lawyers in modern Belarus violates the guarantees of the legal profession, the basic principles of advocacy and represents a consequence of the exercise of lawyers’ professional duties. Attorneys in Belarus, as well as all over the world, should be able to practice law without intimidation, hindrance, harassment, improper interference or reprisals. That is why the editorial demands compliance with the guarantees of the legal profession, the immediate termination of criminal and administrative prosecution of Vitaly Braginets, Alexander Danilevich and Andrei Mochalov.

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