COMMUNICATION WITH UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEURS IN DEFENSE OF BELARUSSIAN LAWYERS - 2021

31.10.2021

The Belarusian Helsinki Committee is constantly communicating with the relevant UN Special Rapporteurs for the protection of Belarusian lawyers. On this page, we collect all information about the work done by human rights defenders in this regard.

30 October, 2021

The BHC informed the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers that one of the reputable belarusian lawyers Natalia Matskevich has been excluded from the Minsk City Bar Association based on a decision of its disciplinary commission. That actually terminates her license to practice law.  As a result, Natalia’s clients are left unprotected.

Natalia Matskevich defended electoral candidates, including, V. Babaryka and S. Tikhanouski, and a number of other political prisoners.

Previously, on October 13, the Ministry of Justice suspended Natalia from performing her professional duties in connection with the disciplinary proceeding initiated against her on the basis of the order of the then Minister of Justice Oleg Slizhevsky.

In its submission, the BHC called on the Special Rapporteur to contact the belarusian authorities and demand the immediate cessation of interference in the activities of lawyers and putting pressure on them, as well as to guarantee their independence and free performance of their duties.

We consider disciplinary proceedings against Natalia Matskevich and decision of her bar association exclusion as a part of a nationwide program to put pressure on lawyers who support political prisoners.

We reminded the Special Rapporteur that, since September 2020, several dozen lawyers have lost their licenses.

All of them participated in politically motivated trials or openly expressed their disagreement with the "legal default" and usage of violence and torture against peaceful demonstrators.

In our opinion, the purpose of such actions is to intimidate those lawyers who may speak out in such way and those lawyers who may defend people motivated in politically criminal cases.

Thus, the state violates the principle of the independence of the legal profession and leaves political prisoners without the right to effective protection.

9 March, 2021

The Belarusian Helsinki Committee informed the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers of the Minsk Regional Bar Association about the extraordinary certification held on March 3 by the Qualification Commission on Advocacy Issues under the Ministry of Justice, which resulted in the following decisions:

— on compliance with legislative requirements by lawyer Y. Karachun;

— on partial compliance with legislative requirements by lawyers D. Gorokhovik, S. Konnovoy, E. Maisenya with six months probation, subject to the recommendations of the Qualification Commission, including qualification improvement courses;

— on failure to comply with legislative requirements by lawyers A. Bartashevich, N. Yotka, and E. Shinkarevich due to the lack of qualifications (https://t.me/minjust_by/956).

The BHC considers this step as harassment of lawyers who publicly express their negative attitude towards the “legal default”, violence and torture against peaceful protesters in the form of petitions, video appeals, etc. In our view, it is also a means of intimidating those who could potentially speak out this way.

We requested the Special Rapporteur to urgently contact the competent state bodies of Belarus and demand that they cease interference with the legal profession and harassment of lawyers, guarantee their independence and free performance of their duties.

22 February, 2021

On 22 February, we submitted additional information to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers regarding four lawyers disbarred on 19 February. This refers to Lyudmila Kazak, Konstantin Mikhel, Mikhail Kirilyuk, and Maxim Konon

In November, Konstantin Mikhel was arrested for 14 days for participating in an unauthorised mass event. Maxim Konon served a 12-day term of arrest “for participating in an unauthorised rally near the city beach in Braslav,” although Mr. Kanon reported that he went there to see a client. According to the prosecutors, Mikhail Kirilyuk used "incorrect expressions towards representatives of state bodies".

The Ministry of Justice comments as follows on this matter: 

In violation of the established regulations, lawyers K. Mikhel and M. Konon took part in mass events unauthorised by the local executive committee, thereby committing an administrative offense under part 1 of Article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Republic of Belarus. Lawyer Kazak disobeyed the lawful request of a militia officer in the course of duty, thereby committing an administrative offense under Article 23.4 of the Code. Lawyer Kirilyuk made public statements on the global computer network Internet containing rude, tactless expressions towards representatives of State bodies, which was unacceptable.

Furthermore, we informed the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances about the situation with Lyudmila Kazak, since the Group is currently considering the abduction of Maria Kolesnikova, who was a client of Lyudmila Kazak. 

12 February, 2021

The Belarusian Helsinki Committee reached out to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers with a message on the situation with lawyer Liudmila Kazak, the defender of Maria Kalesnikava.

On 19 February, the issue of termination of Lyudmila's lawyer's license will come under consideration in connection with the “offense incompatible with the name of a lawyer”, namely the administrative offense under Article 23.4 of the Administrative Code.

We recall that a protocol was drawn up against lawyer Lyudmila Kazak under Article 23.4 of the Administrative Code (Failure to obey a militia officer).

Liudmila Kazak was detained in the city center by three unknown persons who refused to show any documents and to name the reason for detention. After the arrest, Mrs. Kazak  was taken to the police department, where she was placed in a detention room, then she was transferred to the temporary detention facility. Liudmila had the data on the case of Maria Kolesnikova with her, namely a document folder and flash drives, constituting a lawyer's secret. We also note that in the police department Lyudmila Kazak was denied a call to ambulance, a lawyer, and to her husband to let him know what was happening.

BHC requested the Special Rapporteur to urgently contact the authorities of Belarus and demand that they cease interfering with the legal profession and harassing lawyers, and guarantee their independence.

Human rights defenders also remind that according to the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, governments shall ensure that lawyers: can carry out all their professional duties in an environment free from threats, obstacles, intimidation or undue interference; are not subject to prosecution or judicial, administrative, economic or other sanctions for any actions performed in accordance with the appropriate professional duties, standards, and ethics, or threats of such harassment and sanctions.