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Russia: Lawyers under attack in troubled North Caucasus region - new report

Lawyers beaten, run over and shot dead

Lawyers are coming under attack in the troubled North Caucasus region of Russia, particularly when trying to represent people accused of involvement in the activities of armed groups in the region, said Amnesty International today in a new report.

The report examines the dangers faced by criminal defence lawyers in a region of Russia where the violence of armed groups has been countered by the heavy-handed response of the authorities, often with scant respect for basic human rights.

Torture is frequently used in Russia as a means of securing confessions, and lawyers who have tried to prevent their clients from incriminating themselves and have challenged violations of their clients’ rights have often seen as a hindrance to the administration of justice, rather than the crucial guarantors of it, said Amnesty.

The 58-page report - Confronting the circle of injustice: Threats and pressure faced by lawyers in the North Caucasus - details a string of cases where lawyers have been seriously ill-treated and in one case killed in a region comprising six of Russia’s republics - Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and North Ossetia - and the Stavropol area.

For example, last year the lawyer Omar Saidmagomedov and his cousin were killed by security officials in a street in Makhachkala, the capital city of Dagestan, which the authorities reported as the killing of two members of an armed group. However, Saidmagomedov’s colleagues say he was unlawfully executed, and have themselves faced harassment in connection with their attempts to uncover the truth.

In December 2011, Magamed Abubakarov, an outspoken lawyer in Nalchik - the capital city of the Kabardino-Balkaria republic - was badly injured in a suspicious car accident involving the police. Having been forced out of his car at gunpoint by the police, an unidentified car drove into him at high speed, badly injuring him. He received death threats both before and after the incident which the police failed to investigate it. Amnesty recently launched a campaign on Abubakarov’s case via its “SMS Action Network” (see /p>

), a move which has seen the authorities agreeing to launch an investigation into the death threats.

Meanwhile, a Dagestani lawyer, Sapiyat Magomedova, was hospitalised in 2010 after allegedly being beaten by several police officers when she went to visit her detained client. After she complained and insisted that the incident be impartially investigated, she herself had serious criminal charges brought against her.

Amnesty’s report finds that there is “a failure of systemic proportions” by the authorities in the North Caucasus when it comes to investigating credible claims of the involvement of law enforcement officials in things like torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.

Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Director John Dalhuisen said:

“Lawyers in the North Caucasus who fight for the rights of their clients are often intimidated, threatened, sometimes subjected to physical violence and even killed, while law enforcement officials behind these attacks enjoy impunity.

“For the detainee, the defence lawyer is often the only contact with the outside world that can attest to their torture and seek to uphold their rights.

“Being a lawyer and knowing the law is sadly not an advantage that makes much difference when powerful security officials are involved. As a result, impunity for human rights violations prevails.

“The Russian authorities must ensure that lawyers are protected and free to perform their professional duties without fear. They must ensure that all perpetrators of violence and other abuses in relation to lawyers are brought to justice. And they must ensure that lawyers are able to defend their clients without obstruction.”

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