Statement on the Criminal Prosecution of Attorney Alexander Danilevich

Alexander Danilevich was detained on 20 May 2022 and has been kept in the KGB detention facility since then. In June 2022, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee informed the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus about numerous cases of prosecution of lawyers in Belarus, including the detention of A. Danilevich. On 28 June 2022, a coalition of Belarusian human rights organizations declared the attorney a political prisoner.

On January 10, 2023 the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus declared the end of the investigation of the criminal case against the attorney. Alexander Danilevich was finally charged with committing crimes under Article 16, Part 6 and Article 361, part 3 (aiding in calls for restrictive measures (sanctions)), Article 361-4, Part 1 (contributing to extremist activity) of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus.

Under the report of the investigative authorities, Alexander Danilevich is accused due to the fact that he, "despite having a higher legal education and legal practice, decided to support extremists and adherents of legal nihilism. Having cooperated with representatives of destructive cells, [Aliaksandra] Herasimenia and [Alexander] Opeikin, he actively advised in and facilitated the processes of formation of public calls of extremists to harm the national security of the Republic of Belarus. <...> One of the most vivid examples of Danilevich's criminal activity is drafting the letters and documents to the Norwegian company "Yara", which is a major reliable buyer of Belaruskali production — potash fertilizers. In his "letters" he deliberately set forth false information about the political, economic and social situation in Belarus. The "attorney" did not carry out all his destructive activities on his own, but used the so-called "strike committees" as a cover. Finally, in an attempt to gain public recognition in the ranks of extremists, last March A. Danilevich openly communicated with extremist resources to create a destructive information agenda.

Such a manner of the delivery of information by the state is a gross violation of the attorney’s presumption of innocence. As a person accused of committing a crime, A. Danilevich has the legitimate right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty (See Article 14.2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)). At the same time, in violation of the presumption of innocence, the Investigative Committee affirmatively states that Alexander Danilevich committed certain unlawful acts. Also, based on the information of the Investigative Committee, the attorney is accused of representing clients in his professional activities, which is prohibited by international standards of the legal profession.

International advocacy standards derive from and are based on the absolute right of every person to an independent and fair trial. This right is enshrined in Article 14 of the ICCPR, to which the Republic of Belarus is a party.

The Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (hereinafter the Basic Principles) establish at para. 16 the obligation of the Government to ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; and (c) 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.

The standard enshrined in the Principles underlines as well that lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients' causes as a result of discharging their functions. (para. 18)

It is also presumed that lawyers shall enjoy civil and penal immunity for relevant statements made in good faith in written or oral pleadings or in their professional appearances before a court, tribunal or other legal or administrative authority. (para. 20) Governments shall recognize and respect that all communications and consultations between lawyers and their clients within their professional relationship are confidential. (para. 22)

In addition, it is important to note that A. Danilevich's incriminated drafting of letters and documents to the Norwegian company "Yara" as a "bright example of criminal activity" is a legitimate action within the framework of legal assistance, as it was aimed at calling Yara to comply with business and human rights standards and its obligations in this area, which are set out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights 2011 and the corporate policies of the company itself.

In its turn, the Belarusian Republican Bar Association, as well as territorial bar associations, completely ignore the events ongoing in the country and fail to take any measures to protect the bar as a whole and individual lawyers. At the same time, as stated in the Preamble to the Basic Principles, professional associations of lawyers have a vital role to play in upholding professional standards and ethics, protecting their members from persecution and improper restrictions and infringements.

The main functions of self-governing professional associations are the representation of lawyers’ interests (para. 24 of the Principles), and cooperation with government to ensure that everyone has effective and equal access to legal services and that lawyers are able, without improper interference, to counsel and assist their clients in accordance with the law and recognized professional standards and ethics. (para. 25)

The above circumstances indicate not only serious problems in the provision of legal (attorney’s) assistance, the right to defense and legal aid, but also the impossibility of functioning in such conditions of an independent and fair judiciary in general. Persecution of lawyers for their professional activities both on the part of state bodies and bar associations creates an atmosphere of intimidation and distrust in the legal profession and has a "chilling effect" on those lawyers who still work in accordance with international standards.

In this connection, we, Belarusian human rights organizations, urge the Belarusian authorities to comply with their international human rights obligations and

  • to stop criminal prosecution of Alexander Danilevich and release him from custody immediately;
  • to stop repressions against lawyers who carry out their professional duties in good faith;
  • to cease the practice of prosecuting lawyers for defending political opponents and for expressions on issues of public interest;
  • to respect and fulfill the right of everyone to be represented by competent and independent counsel;
  • to stop the practice of creating false impressions of the guilt of those being prosecuted before the relevant court judgment enters into legal force.

We also demand that the Belarusian Republican Bar Association and territorial bar associations strictly perform their functions to protect the legal profession, create appropriate conditions for the lawyers' work, and respond diligently to all cases of interference by state agencies in the activities of lawyers.

We call upon international bar associations, other nongovernmental organizations from various countries of the world, and international institutions to continue to show solidarity with Belarusian attorneys who are being persecuted for faithfully performing their professional duties and to respond to the situation of ongoing human rights violations in the country.

Right to Defence,

Human Constanta

Belarusian Helsinki Committee

Human Rights Center “Viasna”

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