Abkhaz lawyers threaten to strike amid accusations against one of their colleagues
Abkhaz lawyers are protesting and threaten to go on strike and stop participating in court hearings and consideration of cases, citing the pressure on one of the lawyers. She was accused of running an anonymous page on Facebook, insulting the authorities and law enforcement officials. The lawyer denies accusations, and her colleagues intend to demand a response from the authorities. This case served as a pretext for lawyers to recall to the authorities all the facts of violation of their rights.
According to the story of Zhanna Shenkao, a member of the Sukhum collegium of lawyers, on June 23, from the Dranda detention center, one of the prisoners called her as a lawyer and asked for a meeting. He wanted to discuss the possibility of his parole. On the same day, Shenkao arrived at the detention center. According to Shenkao, the inmate refused to communicate in the interrogation room, and the lawyer went downstairs with him.
- Op-ed: Crime and provision of justice in Abkhazia
- Russian tourist attacked, tortured in Abkhazia
- Residents of Abkhazia allowed to bear arms
“As I advanced, I realized that I would not have a conversation with him, that I was being taken to a meeting with someone else. Prisoner Aslan Zukhba was waiting for me there. I was familiar with him. Aslan took the initiative to establish the truth since his brothers believe that I am an ‘anonymous’ blogger”, says Zhanna.
According to her, the prisoner threatened her during the conversation:
“He said that there are 100 prisoners outside the window who are ready to rush in and tear me apart”.
“But when we returned from threats to talking about whether I was anonymous or not, I showed him my phone number, a page on the FB. Our conversation did not last long – only five minutes”, says Zhanna Shenkao. According to her, she found this episode unpleasant, but did not attach due importance to it and left.
Later that day, officers from the Criminal Investigation Department came to her and took her away for an interview at the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The conversation lasted until midnight, Zhanna Shenkao answered many questions from employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Security Service. The latter, in turn, were interested in where the second phone from which she entered the anonymous page was. In the investigation department, the lawyer was told that they had testimony from one of her clients.
As it became known to JamNews from its sources in the authorities, Shenkao’s client in question admitted that he “leaked information from the prison to the lawyer”.
Lawyer Zhanna Shenkao explains such interest in her by the fact that she is raising a child from one of the defendants in the triple murder case on the Sukhum Embankment in November 2019 and is a witness for the defense in the same case. Zhanna Shenkao assumes that the pressure on her is connected with testimony in this case and requires law enforcement officers to carefully examine the events around her.
A strike is a last resort
Law enforcement agencies are making attempts to physically and mentally influence lawyers through criminal prosecution. All this creates a threat to independent advocacy and infringes on the rights of not only defenders, but also their clients, stated the chairman of the Chamber of Advocates of Abkhazia, Konstantin Chagava.
“We state the facts of systematic violations of the professional rights of lawyers, such as: the requirement of the investigator, the court or another document for admission to the client or without explanation at all is denied a meeting, the long wait for a meeting, an obstacle in working with equipment, wiretapping.
There are also cases when a client is detained and a meeting with him is impossible before the first interrogation, his location is hidden and it is impossible to provide him with legal assistance”, Chagava said.
Konstantin Chagava called for the introduction of criminal liability for interference in advocacy in any form. The corresponding bill, according to the chairman of the Chamber of Advocates, will be sent to parliament.
As examples of pressure on the legal community, Chagawa cited cases when lawyers were unlawfully detained, held in custody, and physical force was used against them.
To be heard, Konstantin Chagava called on his colleagues “to express a professional protest and not take part in investigative actions and courts for a month”.
This proposal did not find unanimous support from those present. Someone joked that it was high time to go on vacation, someone asked if it would be paid, someone said that obligations to clients do not allow participating in such a protest.
Timur Tapagua is a lawyer for one of the defendants in the triple murder case on the Embankment. He left the meeting of colleagues before everyone else, since it was time for a court session on another case.
“I ran to court, and you decide, colleagues. Somehow it is necessary. How long are we going to hammer these rapids? We have a problem with what … we know very well. In our country, every minister believes that he is the law. In fact, our laws are not bad. Everything is clearly written there”, said Tapagua and left the meeting.
In a state governed by the rule of law, there should not be such problems, says lawyer Tariel Parulua.
“If this happened, even though I treat our colleague very well, there is nothing for such a person to do in our team. But only if it did happen indeed. And if it did not, then you can imagine, a person is so disadvantaged, wherever he goes, there is an obstacle everywhere. I know this system quite well from my duty. You see, the whole prison is buzzing. Usually the people we protect are buzzing. So, according to their concepts, it should not be at all that they are against a lawyer (protested – author’s note). This can only be if someone specially prepared them. And who can influence them? This should be the starting point”, Parulua said.
Zhanna Shenkao herself spoke at the meeting. She said that she shared the concerns of her colleagues and did not have answers to them. Only guesses and conjectures related to the fact that they are trying to eliminate her precisely as a witness for the defense in the case of the murder of crime bosses.
Konstantin Chagava suggested that his colleagues nevertheless express their professional protest and refuse to participate in investigative and judicial processes for at least ten days.
The lawyers did not agree with this proposal and noted that by doing so they would infringe on the rights of their clients. The members of the collegium agreed on the need to send a letter to the president and indicate in it that if violations of rights and pressure continue, they will be forced to stop providing services.
Konstantin Chagava said that he plans to personally meet with the head of state and convey to him the problems of the community.
Terms, place names, opinions and ideas suggested by the author of the publication are her / his own and do not necessarily coincide with the opinions and ideas of JAMnews or its individual employees. JAMnews reserves the right to remove comments on posts that are deemed offensive, threatening, violent or otherwise ethically unacceptable.