Stop government interference in activities of the Bar

Joint statement of Belarusian human rights organizations.

According to information received by the human rights organizations, the Ministry of Justice has audited the work of a number of lawyers of the Minsk City Bar and the Mahilioŭ Regional Bar, which resulted in the appointment of extraordinary certification of lawyers, including at least 21 persons from the Minsk City Bar.

In addition, about 60 lawyers are awaiting scheduled re-certification, which is held every five years. They will pass a competency test at the local Bars. However, there is a list of eight counsels who in November will be recertified directly by the Qualification Commission of the Ministry of Justice.

Human rights activists have repeatedly expressed their concern about the authorities’ interfering in the activities of lawyers and spoken in defense of the lawyers, who were denied the right to engage in professional activities solely in connection with their participation as counsels in politically motivated criminal cases.

It is worth recalling that in 2011, as a result of an extraordinary certification by the Ministry of Justice, there were attempts to strip the licenses of a number of lawyers who represented defendants in the ‘rioting’ criminal case opened following the events of December 19, 2010. The country’s human rights community expressly regarded this step as persecution of lawyers for the exercise of their professional activity and blatant interference in the legal profession.

It should be noted that the legislation of Belarus regulating the activities of defense lawyers provides for such interference.

It is for this reason that the current initiative of the Ministry of Justice to conduct the extraordinary certification of some advocates is of particular concern to the human rights community.

The first result of this wave of audits was the failed certification of Hanna Bakhtsina, lawyer of the Minsk City Bar, as well as conditional certification due to incomplete professional competence with regard to three other lawyers.

“Not fit to work as an attorney due to lack of professional skills,” says a conclusion by the Ministry’s Qualification Commission received on September 12 by Hanna Bakhtsina, a lawyer with 38 years of legal experience. It should be noted that Ms. Bakhtsina repeatedly participated as counsel in politically motivated criminal trials.

In this regard, we, representatives of the country’s human rights community, call on the Belarusian authorities to:

  • immediately stop the interference of government bodies in the activities of lawyers and ensure their independence at the legislative level by making appropriate changes to the current legislation;
  • stop putting pressure on lawyers engaged in the protection of defendants in politically motivated cases and cases related to the promotion of human rights;
  • revoke the decision of the Qualification Commission of the Ministry of Justice, which is an obstacle in the implementation of professional activities of lawyer Hanna Bakhtsina.

We also urge the Minsk City Bar to:

  • refrain from enforcing the decision to dismiss Hanna Bakhtsina from the Bar.

Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Belarusian Helsinki Committee”

Belarusian Association of Journalists

NGO “Legal Initiative”

Belarusian Documentation Center

Legal Transformation Center

Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities

Assembly of Democratic NGOs

Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House

Human Rights Center “Legal Assistance to Population”

Advisory Center on Current International Practices and Their Implementation in the Law “Human Constanta”

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