Russian police breaking up a peaceful demonstration in Moscow, 2012 (Image: social media)
As the Russian authorities make ever more absurd charges against ever more individuals and groups and routinely fail in their responsibilities to defend the constitutional rights of their citizens, the question arises: is there anyone left to defend Russians being persecuted by the powers that be? The answer unfortunately is that there may soon not be.
The cases range from that of Ekaterina Vologzheninova who is being charged with crimes for “undesirable likes” on Facebook because she links to Memorial and International Amnesty to separatist charges against those demanding Moscow follow the Russian constitution to the failure of officials to investigate the murder of mullahs and imams.
This list could be extended at will, but there is another unfortunate trend which makes all of these cases worse. It is that the actions of Russian officials against lawyers — including various acts of intimidation and harassment — mean that soon these or others charged with obviously political and inevitably absurd crimes may not be able to find a defense attorney.
Indeed, Olga Romanova says in a commentary on Kasparov.ru, depriving those charged with such crimes of the possibility of an adequate defense has “already become a system,” one that few lawyers or others are protesting and thus a violation of constitutional rights that will make other violations even more likely.
She is especially concerned by the fact that few lawyers are protesting this development, and she argues that “the solidarity of the attorney community appear [to her] to be a chimera,” in just the same way that “the solidarity of citizens is.” The future is thus not bright for the defense of the rights of everyone.
One consequence of this may be that specific groups in the population may seek to cultivate their own corps of lawyers. One of the first that may do so is the Muslim community which has watched as ever more of its publications has been declared extremist and ever more of its leaders killed without the murderers being identified and brought to justice.
In a comment to the Kavkazskaya politika portal, Leonid Syukiyaynen, one of Russia’s leading specialists on Islam who now works at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, urges Muslims to form just such a detachment of lawyers to defend their interests.
That may be a good idea under the circumstances in Putin’s Russia, but it may also mean that such lawyers will be among the first to be attacked or otherwise undermined by officials more concerned about power than about the rights of the ordinary citizens.