Recently, lawyers themselves have been increasingly subject to persecution for their professional activities (criminal cases, being named “foreign agents;” the most striking case is that
of lawyer Ivan Pavlov, who was actually pressured to leave the country). For example, a survey
among active defense lawyers conducted in 2021 by the Institute for Law and Public Policy showed that 88% of those who conduct criminal and administrative cases had had their rights violated.
Still, the legal community itself, which unites almost 75k professional lawyers across the entire country, is extremely heterogeneous. Some are part of sturdy teams, while some work alone. A certain contingent isn’t involved with criminal cases at all, specializing in civil litigation or serving large corporate interests. Among those who specialize in criminal law, there are lawyers who are far from the human rights agenda and often have the same goals in their work as law enforcement and the courts. In another 2021 survey, for comparison, among lawyers from rural areas half reported that they don’t face violations of their rights, while among lawyers from small and medium-sized cities (up to 200k people) only 23% said they don’t come across violations. That is, the larger the location, the greater the sensitivity of lawyers to violations and the more unwilling they are to make common cause with the prosecution.
Lawyers who deal with human rights cases are a very small minority of Russian lawyers; they are mainly concentrated in Moscow, St Petersburg and some regional capitals. Yet against the backdrop of increased repression, there is a grassroots movement, cooperation and consolidation among such lawyers; they are uniting and engage in collective action. Still, in some regions this trend is often opposed by the official leaders of regional bar associations. In a number of cases, the most “unreliable” lawyers were disbarred. In addition, Justice Ministry initiatives are being strengthened to control the legal community through reporting (including financial reporting – all financial transactions of licensed lawyers have been open to Rosfinmonitoring for several years) and through complaints sent to the leadership of regional bars.
On June 8, 2022, the Supreme Court, on the suit of the Prosecutor General's Office, finally liquidated
the Trade Union of Licensed Lawyers of Russia, the oldest organization independent from bar associations. The Federal Bar Association was recognized as an interested party and supported this liquidation.
The “military operation” in Ukraine has divided the legal community, as it has Russian society as a whole, with some condemning and some supporting the country’s leadership. And just like across society as a whole, there has been a trend of lawyers’ informing on each other. For example, Dmitry Talantov, the critically minded head of the Udmurt Republic Bar Association, published on Facebook the materials from an administrative case initiated against him, which, among other things, contain a call by lawyer Violetta Volkova for law enforcement to respond to the antiwar statements of her colleague. Lawyers are also prosecuted under the new laws, just like ordinary citizens. For instance
, in late May in Crimea human rights lawyer Edem Semedlyaev was detained and fined for "discrediting the Russian army". His lawyer, Nazim Sheikhmambetov, was unable to defend him, since he himself was charged with organizing an illegal mass event and sentenced to eight days of administrative arrest. Lawyers Ayder Azamatov and Emina Avamileva, who came to сourt to defend Sheikhmambetov, were, in their turn, also accused of organizing a rally and arrested for eight and 5 days, respectively.
Thus, not only have the opportunities for effective legal protection narrowed, but the pressure on independent lawyers is set to grow, both from law enforcement agencies and their own colleagues. Meanwhile, the widening criminal and administrative repression in the country has sharply increased the demand for active and committed lawyers.