Posts Tagged ‘human rights lawyers’

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information has shut down

January 11, 2022

On 10 Jan 2022 one of Egypt’s last independent human rights organisations has closed down, according to a statement by the group, citing government persecution. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/C6490073-ED93-793A-C5DB-3C931BB470D3

Egypt’s government has engaged in a widespread crackdown on dissent for years that has stifled many of the country’s civil society groups and jailed thousands

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information [ANRI], an Egyptian organisation, was founded in 2003 by a team of lawyers and activists. It documented violations against citizens, journalists and political prisoners in Egypt and the region. It also followed the increasing government intimidation and targeting of human rights workers and others. But laws that made many of ANHRI’s operations illegal have forced the organisation to shut down, Executive Director Gamal Eid said in the statement on Monday. See e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/31/egyptian-human-rights-defender-gamal-eid-assaulted/. As a lawyer, Eid represented some of the most prominent secular detainees. A court ordered his assets frozen and has banned him from travelling since 2016.

He said the group’s workers had been arrested, intimidated and physically assaulted by security forces.

We continue to be lawyers who have a conscience, and as individual, independent human rights defenders will work side by side with the few remaining independent human rights organisations, independent human rights defenders and the entire movement calling for democracy,” he wrote.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/1/10/egypt-leading-rights-group-closes-citing-government-persecution

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/egyptian-rights-group-closes-cites-government-persecution/2022/01/10/7348be54-7226-11ec-a26d-1c21c16b1c93_story.html

The 3 nominees for the 2021 Tulip are known

November 22, 2021

The Netherlands ministry of foreign affairs sponsors since 2008 a human rights award, the Tulip [for more information on this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/D749DB0F-1B84-4BE1-938B-0230D4E22144]

A committee of 5 human rights experts has selected a shortlist of 12 human rights defenders from among the nominees for 2021; since then an independent jury composed of 5 members has select 3 candidates from this shortlist. The Minister of Foreign Affairs will now choose a winner from the three remaining candidates:

Human rights activist and lawyer in Uganda

As a child, he grew up in the epicentre of a brutal war between the Lord Resistance Army and government forces. Today, working as a human rights lawyer, he is being threatened, spied on and shadowed. This is his story.

Nicholas Opiyo
Nicholas Opiyo.

As a human rights lawyer, Ugandan Nicholas Opiyo is not afraid to take on sensitive cases. He challenged the law that gave the police the right to ban public gatherings. He led the campaign for the enactment of a law criminalizing torture and drafted the initial bill that was enacted by parliament in 2012. He, alongside other brave Ugandan activists, successfully challenged Uganda’s anti-gay law in 2014. He has provided legal representation to the gay community in Uganda.

Nicholas is executive director of Chapter Four Uganda, an NGO that works to protect civil liberties and improve universal observance of human rights. He defends human rights activists who are being persecuted in Uganda. He also stands up for people who are in trouble with the government and lack the resources to defend themselves. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/6743A94B-BA1A-AA2A-AC6C-592EBD981EDA

Surviving war

Nicholas grew up on the outskirts of the northern Ugandan city of Gulu. His village was repeatedly attacked by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that used child soldiers. Unlike many young people abducted into the ranks of the rebels, he survived abductions.  The rebels kidnapped his father and sister, who managed to return after several months in captivity. To avoid being kidnapped, Nicholas walked several kilometres every day so he could sleep in the city. It was safer in a church compound or on the pavement in front of shops than in his village.

Government soldiers detained Nicholas’ father as part of an operation to eliminate traitors. The soldiers took all men 18 and older to a stadium where they were held for days without food. Looking through a crack in the stadium wall, Nicholas could see his father being beaten. Nicholas’ father was released after three days because he was innocent. Unable to forget these events, Nicholas decided to become a lawyer. ‘First I wanted to be a journalist so I could speak about [mistreatment],’ he said in an interview met Buzzfeed News. ‘But I thought … I can go to court and change things.’ 

Nicholas’ work often gets him in trouble with the state. He is being threatened, spied on and shadowed. In December 2020, in the run-up to the elections, he was arrested and imprisoned. Although he was charged with money laundering, the government presented no evidence. He spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve in jail. Human rights activists see the charges against Nicholas as a way to hinder his work as a human rights lawyer. Even in jail, he used his time to talk to prisoners who sought advice. In fact, he says, his arrests give him the energy to do even more. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/23/ugandan-human-rights-defender-nicholas-opiyo-arrested-like-a-criminal/]

Nunca Más: they had to flee from Nicaragua, but their struggle continues

Banished from Nicaragua, a target of cyberattacks: despite all these setbacks, the activist collective Nunca Más is continuing to work for human rights in Nicaragua. This is their story.

Nunca Más
Nunca Más.

When Daniel Ortega became president of Nicaragua, his supporters said that there was no longer any reason for us to exist. That human rights work in Nicaragua was a thing of the past. But that can never happen! Anyone who exercises power is capable of abusing it.’ So said human rights defender Gonzalo Carrión Maradiaga in an interview with the Nicaraguan magazine Envío. For 14 years he had been legal adviser of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), which combats impunity and human rights violations.

In December 2018 the Ortega government closed CENIDH by force. The human rights defenders on its staff were expelled from Nicaragua. Gonzalo and his colleagues fled to Costa Rica, where they continued their work and in 2019 founded Nicaragua Nunca Más. Nunca Más reports on torture and other human rights violations in Nicaragua, in the interests of justice and to discourage new violations. They offer legal and psychosocial support to victims and their family members, journalists and human rights defenders, and conduct human rights training courses. They also work at international level on behalf of victims of human rights violations. At the moment, justice cannot be sought through the Nicaraguan legal system, as it is under influence of the president. Nonetheless, gathering evidence is crucial to ensure justice for human rights violation in the future.   

It was not easy to make a fresh start in a new country, but the founders of Nunca Más have managed to recover. Between 2019 and 2021 the group documented over 400 cases of serious human rights violations. The collective has now issued five reports, including information on victims who have been tortured, humiliated and arbitrarily imprisoned. The reports also contain information about extrajudicial executions and denial of the right to organise. Such reports are crucial in the absence of free press.

Under pressure

The Nicaraguan government have not been pleased with Nunca Más’ reports, and are subjecting the organisation to severe pressure. Its website has been the target of repeated cyberattacks. Extra digital security measures have enabled the collective to safeguard personal data and sensitive digital information. Despite these difficult conditions, including being forced to live far from their familiar surroundings, its human rights defenders are persisting bravely with their struggle. Gonzalo has not seen his wife or one of his daughters for 18 months. ‘But the time will come. One day I’ll go back,’ he said resolutely in the interview with Envío.

It was not easy to make a fresh start in a new country, but the founders of Nunca Más have managed to recover. Between 2019 and 2021 the group documented over 400 cases of serious human rights violations. The collective has now issued five reports, including information on victims who have been tortured, humiliated and arbitrarily imprisoned. The reports also contain information about extrajudicial executions and denial of the right to organise. Such reports are crucial in the absence of free press.

Mari Davtyan, lawyer in Russia, opposes domestic violence

The Russian police do not always respond to domestic violence complaints. Sometimes their failure to act has fatal results. Lawyer Mari Davtyan has been working for years now to change this situation. This is her story.

Mari Davtyan
Mari Davtyan.

In December 2017 Margarita Gracheva’s husband chopped her hands off with an axe. She had asked the police for help several times in the preceding months – in vain. Mari Davtyan was Margarita’s lawyer. Now Mari is working on the case of three teenage sisters who killed their father on 28 July 2018, when they could no longer bear his many years of physical and sexual abuse. Their mother had reported the violence to the police, but was ignored. Domestic violence is seen in Russia as a ‘family issue’, and outside interference is viewed as meddling, Mari noted in an interview with Voice of America. Mari’s strong defence for the teenage sisters has sparked a debate in Russian society on domestic violence and conservative family values.

Since 2017 domestic violence is no longer a serious offence in Russia, but a misdemeanour. Perpetrators are fined, have to do community service or are served with a training order. They are only taken to court in cases of repeated violence or serious injuries. This law is meant to preserve the ‘unity of the family’; according to this logic, fathers don’t belong in jail. Mari has been fighting for years now to change this law, ‘because it has been proven dangerous for the safety of thousands of women in Russia’, Mari said in an interview with Marina Pisklakova-Parker of the Anna Center in Moskou. Fighting and winning cases like this has ‘helped the government understand that we are not dealing with violence in the right way,’ said Mari in an interview with the Washington Post. Growing numbers of people are putting pressure on the courts and government to reflect on how they are treating victims.

Mari is also the head and legal expert of the Consortium of Women’s NGOs, which works to protect victims of domestic violence in Russia. The organisation gives courses on women’s rights to lawyers and the police and helps victims with their legal cases. ‘We have more than 100 lawyers working with us today, this year we have more than 150 cases, and I think about 1,000 consultations with individual women,’ said Mari in an interview with the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC). She sees that women are becoming more confident and more often have the courage to seek her out. ‘They are finding the power to ask for help and they’re starting to understand what a healthy relationship should look like,’ she said in her interview with Voice of America.  

https://www.government.nl/topics/human-rights/weblog

https://www.government.nl/topics/human-rights/human-rights-tulip/shortlist-of-candidates-for-human-rights-tulip-2021

Crackdown on Human Rights Lawyers in Belarus continues

October 27, 2021
Gennady Fedunych (left) and Natalia Matskevich (right) at the trial in Minsk, Belarus.
Gennady Fedunych (left) and Natalia Matskevich (right) at the trial in Minsk, Belarus. © Human Rights Center Viasna 2018

Anastasiia Zlobina, Assistant Researcher for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch reports that on 25 October 2021, the Minsk Bar Association disbarred prominent Belarusian defense lawyer Natalia Matskevich, the latest in a wide-raging and politically motivated crackdown on lawyers.

Matskevich is one of four lawyers who represented Viktar Babaryka, former presidential contender arrested on politically motivated charges in June 2020 in the run-up to the August 9 election. In July 2021, Supreme Court sentenced Babaryka to 14 years in prison for “grand bribery” and “laundering of illicit funds.”

On October 20, the Justice Ministry suspended the license of Evgeni Pylchenka, a lawyer who also represented Babaryka, pending the outcome of a disciplinary case against him. Matskevich’s disbarment and Pylchenka’s suspension came soon after they had filed an appeal in Babaryka’s case. Their colleagues said these sanctions were “absurd” and based on “ridiculous” allegations, including “some [supposedly] incorrectly worded questions to witnesses during trial.” 

In July, days after Babaryka’s verdict, authorities stripped his then-lawyer Dmitry Layevsky of his attorney’s license, citing “inappropriate comments about the work of his colleagues.” Prior to his disbarment, Layevsky had faced pressure from the authorities and the Minsk Bar Association.

In October 2020, the Justice Ministry terminated the license of Aliaksandr Pylchenka, another prominent member of Babaryka’s defense team, over supposed “incompetent comments to mass media”

According to Layevsky, Matskevich and Evgeny Pylchenka became “irreplaceable” in Babaryka’s case due to their detailed knowledge of the voluminous case as well as Babaryka’s trust in them.

Since August 2020, Belarusian authorities have been turning up the pressure on lawyers for publicly speaking out about human rights violations and in defense of clients in politically motivated cases. In addition to the obstruction of their work, lawyers have faced personal harassment such as threats, arbitrary detention, raids, revoked licenses, and administrative and criminal charges.

The Belarusian National Bar Association and its regional bars have continuously failed to protect their members.

At least 27 lawyers have already been banned or suspended in reprisal for speaking out against the recent wave of repressions in Belarus. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/10/two-lawyers-from-belarus-share-lawyers-for-lawyers-award-2021/

In November, new restrictive amendments will enter into force, further increasing the Ministry of Justice’s authority over, and eviscerating the independence of, Belarusian lawyers. The arbitrary suspension and disbarment of Belarusian lawyers doesn’t just rob them of their ability to practice their profession, but undermines their clients’ right to legal counsel, and sends a chilling message of intimidation to their colleagues.

On October 26, the Belarusian human rights community issued a joint statement on their recognising another 12 persons as political prisoners, HRC Viasna reported. As of October 26, there are 833 political prisoners in Belarus on this list.

The updated list includes:

  • Syarhei Prus and Dzmitry Bondarau, who were sentenced under Part 3 of Article 130 of the Criminal Code to 5 years in a penal colony for creating and posting online a video calling for illegal actions against riot police officers of the Mahilioŭ regional department of internal affairs;
  • Dzmitry Sonchyk, who was sentenced under Art. 364 and Art. 369 of the Criminal Code to 5 years of imprisonment in a penal colony for insults and threats to police officers in comments in a Telegram channel in 2020 and 2021;
  • Andrey Razuvayeu , who was sentenced under Article 369 and 295 of the Criminal Code to 4 years in a penal colony for insulting a government official and keeping a small amount of hunting gunpowder;
  • Iryna Melkher, Anton Melkher, Halina Dzerbysh, Syarhei Razanovich, Lyubou Razanovich, Pavel Razanovich, who have been in custody on terrorism charges since early December 2020. According to the human rights defenders, they have not participated in any investigative actions, while the investigation is not formally completed, and the state propaganda resources back in 2020 claimed that the guilt and role of all those involved in the case was ‘established and proven’;
  • former investigator Yauhen Yushkevich. The circumstances of the new accusation of terrorism give grounds to believe that his detention may be arbitrary and related to his public activities, human rights activists stress;
  • Yauhen Buynitski, who was detained on charges under Part 3 of Art. 371 of the Criminal Code for organizing illegal border crossing by citizens fleeing arbitrary politically motivated persecution by the Belarusian authorities, which could have serious consequences for them – torture, cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment and illegal imprisonment.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/10/26/belarusian-authorities-retaliate-against-lawyers-defending-human-rights

Two lawyers from Belarus share Lawyers for Lawyers Award 2021

September 10, 2021

Belarusian lawyers Maksim Znak and Liudmila Kazak will receive the Lawyers for Lawyers Award 2021. The Award will be presented at a ceremony co-hosted by Lawyers for Lawyers and the Amsterdam Bar Association in the Rode Hoed in Amsterdam on 18 November 2021. For more on this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/B40861B3-0BE3-4CAF-A417-BC4F976E9CB0

By awarding Maksim Znak and Liudmila Kazak the Lawyers for Lawyers Award, the jury wants to highlight the important work of both lawyers who bravely represented Belarusian human rights defenders and opposition leaders and are paying a high price for their work. With this Award, the jury also wants to raise awareness of other Belarusian lawyers who have been subjected to pressure, harassment and intimidation in connection to their professional activities especially in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential elections”.

Maksim Znak and Liudmila Kazak laureates Lawyers for Lawyers Award 2021

Maksim Znak                                                                                     

Maksim Znak represented Viktor Babaryko, a potential candidate in the presidential elections who was not allowed to formally register. He also provided legal assistance to Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a former candidate for the presidency who is now in exile, and Maria Kolesnikova, Coordination Council co-leader. On 9 September 2020, Mr. Znak was arrested for allegedly having committed the offence of “calls to actions seeking to undermine national security” in violation of Article 361(3) of the Criminal Code of Belarus. In February 2021, additional charges were added, including “conspiracy to seize state power” and “organising extremism”. On 6 September 2021, Mr. Znak was sentenced to 10 years in prison during a closed-door-trial. His sentencing is another indication of the challenging working environment in which Belarusian lawyers must operate.

Liudmila Kazak

Liudmila Kazak is a human rights lawyer who has defended political prisoners, human rights defenders, and journalists, including the opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova. On 24 September 2020, she was detained. The next day, the court held Kazak administratively liable for disobeying police officers based on testimony given by anonymous masked witnesses who appeared via Skype and claimed to be the arresting officers. She was sentenced to a fine under article 23.4 of the Belarusian Administrative Code and released on 26 September 2020. On 11 February 2021, she was notified of a pending disciplinary proceeding against her before the Qualification Commission for legal practice in the Republic of Belarus. On 19 February 2021, the Qualification Commission disbarred Ms. Kazak. Ms. Kazak appealed the decision, but, on 15 April 2021, a district court upheld Ms. Kazak’s disbarment. On 17 June 2021, an appellate court upheld the district court decision.

For 2019 award, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/21/lawyers-for-lawyers-award-to-turkish-human-rights-defender-selcuk-kozagacli-on-23-may/

Team 29, prominent legal defense group in Russia, folds under state pressure

July 24, 2021

Tanya Lokot on 21 July 2021 in Global Voices wrote about the closure of Team 29:

For almost seven years, Team 29 (Komanda 29), a group of independent lawyers, attorneys, advocacy experts and journalists, has fought for the rights of Russian activists, political prisoners, and other citizens. On July 19, the group announced it was shutting down its operations in order to protect its staff and clients from possible criminal prosecution. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/13/russian-human-rights-defenders-try-technology-and-gaming-innovations/

The decision to suspend their work comes after Russia’s internet regulator Roskomnadzor blocked Team 29’s website—allegedly, for publishing content produced by Spolecnost Svobody Informace (Freedom of Information Society), a Prague-based non-profit organisation which the Russian state had labelled as an “undesirable organisation” earlier in June 2021.

In a July 18 post on their Telegram channel, Team 29 said the Russian prosecutors had “conflated” the group with the Czech NGO (implying they were the same organisation), a charge that Team 29 denies.

While its lawyers plan to appeal the allegations as “arbitrary and contrived”, the group decided to act swiftly out of an abundance of caution to prevent further criminal charges against its staff, collaborators and supporters.

Under these circumstances, the continued activity of Team 29 poses a direct and obvious threat to the safety of many people, and we cannot ignore this risk. We are making the difficult decision to suspend the activity of Team 29. The attorneys and lawyers will continue to work on their client’s cases in a purely private capacity, unless the defendants refuse their services given the current situation.

We are closing all of the Team 29 media projects and purging the archive: all (!) texts, guides, reports, investigations, legal explainers, stories of political prisoners, court documents, interviews, podcasts, our literary project, our social media posts—the existence of this content online can be construed as “disseminating materials of an undesirable organisation” according to the logic that was used to block our website.

In their Telegram statement, the group also implored its supporters to delete any direct links or reposts of their content, as these could be interpreted as participating in the activity of an “undesirable organisation”. However, mentioning the organisation or sharing opinions about the situation was not illegal, according to the team.

Additionally, Team 29 said it was shutting down its crowdfunding efforts, and would refund subscribers for any funds that were unspent.

The founder of Team 29, Saint Petersburg-based lawyer Ivan Pavlov, is himself currently under investigation and facing felony charges for his work defending Russian journalist Ivan Safronov who is accused of treason. Though he now heads Team 29, Pavlov was previously the inaugural president of the Czech NGO, but hasn’t been involved with the Freedom of Information Society in any official capacity for the past five years.

Though it’s their digital footprint that is facing pressure from the authorities, Team 29 is best known for their legal support and human rights work in Russia. Writing on his own Telegram channel, Ivan Pavlov argued that it was this work on the ground, defending Russian citizens, that got Team 29 in trouble:

Our authorities have done everything to criminalize the activity and even our very name, Team 29. This is a peculiar sort of recognition of the effectiveness of our work and a compliment from our procedural opponents, who once again have been exhibiting unsportsmanlike behavior.

Founded in 2014 by Ivan Pavlov, a lawyer and freedom of information advocate, Team 29 has long been a thorn in Kremlin’s side. After authorities blacklisted Pavlov’s previous organisation, Institute for the Development of the Freedom of Information, as a “foreign agent”, Team 29 was born.

Since then, the group of defense lawyers, attorneys and reporters has taken on some of the most high-profile political cases in the country, including the trial of scientist Viktor Kudryavtsev on treason charges, the court battle around the designation of Alexey Navalny’s political movement and anti-corruption organisation as “extremist,” and the case of Karina Tsurkan, a former energy executive who was sentenced to 15 years in prison on espionage charges in December 2020.

Apart from defending political prisoners and activist groups in court, Team 29 has also published legal advice guides (archival link), spearheaded creative anti-corruption investigations, and even provided legal representation for a whistleblower from the infamous “troll factories” who took their Internet Research Agency to court in a labour dispute.

In an interview to independent Russian news website Meduza, Evgeny Smirnov, a lawyer formerly with Team 29, said that the latest events were likely “a cumulative effect” of all of their high-profile work. He said both he and Pavlov have received threats implying they were “like a bone in the throat not only for investigators, but also other people and state agencies”, so “that is why the decision was made to bomb us with everything they have”.

Despite the closure of their website, the group said its individual group members would continue their ongoing legal defense work as private individuals. According to Ivan Pavlov‘s Telegram post, Team 29 was “never a formal organisation, but rather a collective of like-minded people” and that “as long as there are people, there will be new ideas and new projects”.

Human rights lawyer Semyon Simonov convicted under Russia’s foreign agents law

July 14, 2021

Nadia Murray-Ragg of Victoria U. Wellington Faculty of Law, in New Zealand reports on 12 July 2021 that human rights defender and lawyer Semyon Simonov was convicted under Russia’s foreign agents law in a controversial criminal trial on Sunday.

In December 2016, Russia designated the Southern Human Rights Center (SHRC) as a foreign agent, considering it to be engaging in political activity. The SHRC is an organization providing pro bono legal services on human rights issues in Russia. Given this status, Russian law required the SHRC to register as a foreign agent. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), “foreign agent” connotes being a traitor or spy. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/19/russias-foreign-agents-bill-goes-in-overdrive/]

In February of 2017, Russia fined the SHRC for its failure to register. A Russian court determined Simonov, the President of the SHRC, would be held liable to pay the fine in July of 2019 following the SHRC’s non-payment. Sunday’s ruling imposed a sentence of 250 hours of community service onto Simonov for failure to pay the fine.

Simonov has a long history of championing for human rights. He has documented the human rights violations endured by migrant workers preparing for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Simonov’s criminal case has been heavily criticized by the human rights community. HRW’s Russia Researcher, Damelya Aitkhozhina, said “The criminal case against Semyon Simonov has been a sham from start to finish. It’s shocking and abhorrent that the authorities wasted so much time and resources on a case in which the accused did nothing but help people protect their rights.

Similarly, the country’s foreign agents law itself has faced calls for repeal. It has been criticized for quashing dissent and undermining the United Nations’ Declaration on Human Rights Defenders which provides in article one that everyone has the right “to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights”.

The ‘foreign agents’ law is nothing more than a tool of repression,” said HRW. “[I]t should be immediately repealed.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/11/five-individuals-now-listed-as-foreign-agents-in-russia/

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty filed a lawsuit challenging the country’s foreign agents law, citing concerns about the controversial law’s “profound chilling effect”.

https://www.jurist.org/news/2021/07/russia-court-convicts-human-rights-lawyer-under-foreign-agents-law/

Martin Ennals Foundation reaches out: today

June 24, 2021

Martin Ennals Foundation, together with the Geneva Academy, IBAHRI, and ODAGE, is organizing a high-level panel discussion on how to effectively defend human rights lawyers in authoritarian times. Today 24 June at 13h30 Geneva time. With Belarussian human rights activist Tatsiana Khomich, sister of political prisoner Maria Kalasnikova; Xu Yan, wife of 2021 Martin Ennals Laureate Yu Wensheng of China; and Turkish human rights lawyer Ayşe Acinikli. You will also have the opportunity to hear Diego García-Sayán, UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC and ISHR Director Phil Lynch.  

 Register for the event here >>

The MEA has also started an occasional newsletter with in this summer edition:

After a successful campaign, nominations for the 2022 Martin Ennals Award are now closed. We are excited by the high-quality nominations and thank those who contributed to our search for the next generation of human rights heroes.   Meanwhile, our support for human rights defenders continues through the Martin Ennals programs.

Director Isabel de Sola shares how education is paving the way for a more sustainable human rights movement. She informs about the Foundation’s education project – a program aimed at familiarizing students with the concept of human rights and the causes promoted by our Defenders.

Programme Officer Cristina Rendón writes “It takes a village to protect defenders”.  Because the three 2021 awardees were unable to communicate freely with the Martin Ennals Foundation, we had to reinvent our “Geneva Residency” programme by extending its activities to the support networks of our awardees. We learned about the importance of building a strong network of allies who can support defenders, in the good times and the bad

 https://www.martinennalsaward.org/upcoming-event-defending-human-rights-lawyers-in-authoritarian-times/
 

5th China Human Rights Lawyers Day on 9 July 2021

May 24, 2021


The fifth China Human Rights Lawyers Day will be held virtually on July 9, 2021. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/12/china-five-years-after-major-crackdown-international-community-must-support-to-human-rights-lawyers/]

The China Human Rights Lawyers Day was created on July 9, 2017 in acknowledgement of the tireless efforts of Chinese human rights lawyers in their struggle for justice and the rule of law. It commemorates the mass arrest of lawyers that occured on July 9, 2015, and celebrates the ideals, courage, and tenacity of human rights lawyers in China. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/18/chinas-continuing-crackdown-on-human-rights-lawyers-shocking-say-un-experts/]

Most human rights lawyers are not famous, nor are they wealthy, but they have irrefutably stood out in the Chinese legal community, elevating the profession to a worthier height. Over the past two decades, they have represented clients in all aspects of human rights and public interest, including but not limited to freedom of speech, freedom of belief, political dissent, property rights, women’s rights, labor rights, minority rights, anti-discrimination, food safety, and redress of wrongful convictions and other grievances. Their clients are from all walks of Chinese society, including political dissidents, religious believers, human rights defenders, civil society activists, farmers who lost land to illegal appropriation, factory workers, NGO practitioners, private entrepreneurs, writers, journalists, ordinary netizens, street vendors, victims of miscarriage of justice, and even Chinese Communist Party officials who have become prisoners in the so-called anti-corruption campaign. Their clients are often either opponents of the authoritarian regime or those whose rights and dignity are trampled.

Human rights lawyers have performed their duties in the process of defending their clients under the law, but precisely because they take both the law and their duties seriously, they have been subject to increasingly strong hostility from the authorities. Since the emergence of the legal rights defense movement in the early 2000s, these lawyers have only faced worse repercussions for their work; many have been arrested and tortured, suspended and disbarred. But the mass arrests on July 9, 2015, marked the beginning of a broader persecution of human rights lawyers by the Chinese authorities. Dozens of human rights lawyers and their assistants were suddenly arrested and hundreds of lawyers were threatened across the country. The jailed lawyers were subjected to harrowing physical and mental abuse. They were deprived of legal representation, forcibly injected with unknown drugs, forced to make confessions. Over the past two decades, more than 70 human rights lawyers have been disbarred, and about 40 of them have had their licenses revoked or cancelled in the past five years. At least 50 human rights lawyers have been illegally barred from leaving the country.

Even though most of the 709 detainees have been released, imprisonment of human rights lawyers has not ceased. Today, 13 human rights lawyers remain in prison in China, and one has been missing for more than three years.

Although human rights lawyers are a small group among China’s half-million lawyers, they are among those holding a torch lighting the road to rule of law and freedom for the Chinese people. They emerged during the most dynamic period of China’s reform and opening up, and now face hardship and great danger. In a totalitarian state in possession of an overwhelming state apparatus, they have opted for a challenge that few of their peers would be willing to take, but they have no regrets and hold their heads high in their vocation. They and their families have endured sufferings and setbacks, but have remained resilient and steadfast. They have been writing history and they are paving the road to the future. More than 15 human rights lawyers figure in the Digest of Human Rights laureates: see https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest.

For this special day, we call upon members of the public, whoever and wherever you are, to send a message of appreciation and encouragement to human rights lawyers in China by:

·  Printing or handwriting your message on a sheet of paper (or displaying it on your laptop screen);

·  Taking a photo of yourself with your message (group photo is welcome); and

·  Sending it to humanrights.lawyers.day@gmail.com with your name, profession, and location. Your email address will be carefully guarded and not shared or used for any other purposes. Deadline: June 10, 2021

We will play your message in a video collage called “Messages to Human Rights Lawyers in China.” 

Organizers:

Humanitarian China (U.S.), ChinaAid (U.S.), China Change (U.S.), Judicial Reform Foundation (Taiwan), New School for Democracy (Taiwan), Taiwan Support China Human Rights Lawyers Network

https://chinachange.org/2021/05/22/announcing-the-5th-china-human-rights-lawyers-day-calling-for-one-person-one-photo-messages/

Call for nominations for the 2021 Lawyers for Lawyers Award

March 2, 2021

The Lawyers for Lawyers Award aims to honour lawyers who have made significant contributions to the protection of the rule of law and human rights in challenging environments. Through the bi-annual Award, Lawyers for Lawyers generates public recognition for the work and outstanding achievements of lawyers at risk. See for the award and its laureates: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/B40861B3-0BE3-4CAF-A417-BC4F976E9CB0

Nominations must be submitted using the nomination form here. Please send the complete nomination form, including the required attached documents to info@lawyersforlawyers.nl or lawyersforlawyers@protonmail.com.

The closing date for submission of nominations is16 April 2021.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/04/24/lawyers-for-lawyers-raises-the-alarm-filipino-lawyers-at-risk/

Azerbaijani human rights lawyer Shahla Humbatova being disbarred

February 10, 2021
Shahla Humbatova. Photo: US State Department.

On 9 February 2021 Hamida Giyasbayli of OC Media reports that Azerbaijani human rights lawyer Shahla Humbatova has vowed to fight disbarment procedures against her despite what she says is a campaign of ‘harassment and threats’ from the Bar Association.

The Azerbaijani Bar Association has accused Humbatova of submitting a fake document as evidence during a civil case she was litigating, a criminal offence. They have also accused her of owing ₼460 ($270) in membership fees.  The association has taken her to court in an attempt to disbar her, which would strip her of the right to practice law.

Humbatova is well known in Azerbaijan for taking on high-profile human rights cases, including those of queer Azerbaijanis as well as blogger Mehman Huseynov. The move to disbar her follows the disbarment of dozens of other human rights lawyers in recent years, leaving few remaining lawyers taking on such cases. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/e761cd05-65b0-4a02-8abe-e8ce9c58faed]

Speaking with OC Media, Humbatova said the allegation she submitted fake documents was baseless, and that her defence had submitted evidence proving this.

She confirmed that she had owed eight months of membership fees, but insisted the association did not make any effort to notify her of this. ‘I learned about this from the media the day after the Board’s decision [to take me to court]’, she said.  She immediately made the payment, so when the Bar went to court with her disbarment request, there was no longer any debt. Emin Abbasov, a legal practitioner who also works on human rights cases, criticised the proceedings against Humbatova for being conducted behind closed doors and without any records.  Abbasov, along with four others, is himself appealing to the European Court of Human Rights after being denied certification by the Bar Association.                                                                                                                     

Humbatova told OC Media that the move to disbar her was a continuation of the policy of dismantling human rights defenders in the country.  ‘It is lawyers and human rights activists who are fighting against politically motivated arrests, torture, repression of dissidents and those who simply demand their rights, and informing the public and international organisations. Therefore, they are being neutralised’, she stated.

In December 2019, 42 member organisations of the Human Rights House, a global rights group, called on the Azerbaijani Bar Association to ‘halt reprisals against a number of human rights lawyers, including Shahla Humbatova and Elchin Sadigov’. Sadigov is Humbatova’s current lawyer. 

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/20/annual-reports-2019-azerbaijan-in-review-muted-hope-for-2020/