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RUSSIA: The Observatory strongly condemns the violent attacks against lawyers in the Russian Federation and demands an impartial investigation

20 July 2023

Earlier this month, Russian lawyer Alexander Nemov and Russian journalist Yelena Milashina were attacked in Chechnya. Following this attack, another assault was carried out on lawyer Elena Ponomareva in Moscow.

On 4 July 2023, lawyer Alexander Nemov and Yelena Milashina (a journalist working for the independent publication Novaya Gazeta) were violently attacked on their way from the airport to Grozny to hear the decision in the case of Alexander Nemov’s Chechen client Zarema Musayeva, who was being prosecuted for political reasons[1]. On the way, their car was intercepted by three vehicles carrying masked armed men, who forced it to stop and brutally attacked Alexander Nemov and Yelena Milashina, beating them, threatening to kill them while pointing a gun at their heads and destroying their equipment and warning them: “We warned you. Get out of here and don’t write anything down”.

The attackers shaved Milashina’s head and smeared green dye on her face before abandoning her, leaving the lawyer and journalist with serious injuries, including fractured fingers, head wounds and an apparent knife wound to Alexander Nemov’s leg. Despite these injuries, Alexander Nemov was able to attend the hearing, during which his client Zarema Musayeva was sentenced to five and a half years in prison.

On 6 July 2023, lawyer Elena Ponomareva was sprayed with disinfectant at a bus stop in Moscow by unidentified persons. The lawyer suffered retinal damage as a result of being sprayed with the liquid known as “zelyonka”, which has become a recurrent “weapon” against lawyers, journalists and opponents of Putin’s government in recent years. Ms Ponomareva had received threats along with photos of her relatives, and her car had been damaged[2]. She is convinced that these attacks and assaults are linked to her work as a lawyer.

The Observatory strongly condemns these serious acts of intimidation, which endanger the free and independent exercise of the legal profession.

The Observatory calls on the authorities to ensure that all attacks against lawyers in the Russian Federation cease without delay.

The Observatory calls on the authorities of the Russian Federation to ensure that an independent, impartial and prompt investigation is carried out regarding these two incidents, that the perpetrators are brought to justice and that compensation is provided to those harmed.

Given this situation, the Observatory recalls that the independence of the legal profession is one of the main indicators of democratic health and the consolidation of the rule of law. This is in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Principles on the Role of Lawyers, in particular principles 16, 17 and 18:

Principle 16: “Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (b) are able to travel and to consult with their clients freely both within their own country and abroad; and (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.”

Principle 17: “Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.”

Principle 18: “Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.”





[1] “Zarema Musayeva, the wife of retired Supreme Court Judge of Chechnya Saydi Yangulbaev, is facing politically charged allegations from Chechen authorities. These allegations and her subsequent detention are believed to be part of a larger campaign of harassment against the Yangulbaev family due to the human rights work of their sons.”