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Belarus: IBAHRI calls for reinstatement of Lyudmila Kazak after concerning ruling upholds disbarment

Friday 16 April 2021

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) expresses deep concern that the Ministry of Justice’s Qualification Commissionon Advocacy Issues’ (the Commission) decision disbarring the prominent human rights lawyer Lyudmila Kazak (pictured) has been upheld in Belarus by the Minsk City Court. The IBAHRI calls for Ms Kazak’s professional reinstatement.

 

Ms Kazak, who was the lawyer of Maria Kolesnikova – a leader of the opposition in Belarus – learned on 15 April 2021, that her appeal against being disbarred had failed. The reason stated for revoking the veteran lawyer’s licence is ‘[she] disobeyed the lawful demand of a police officer in the performance of his official duties, thereby committing an administrative offence under Article 23.4 of the [Administrative] Code.’

IBAHRI Co-Chair and former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996–2006), the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG commented: ‘We call for Ms Kazak’s disbarment to be annulled and for her lawyer’s licence to be reinstated. Ms Kazak’s case is a stark example of a concerning pattern of disbarment of lawyers in Belarus who represent opposition candidates or express views sympathetic to the opposition. The persecution, intimidation and disbarment of Ms Kazak for executing her duties as a lawyer is a violation of international law. We call on the Belarusian authorities to uphold the provisions of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and allow lawyers to carry out their functions without interference.’

Throughout her 22 years of practice, Ms Kazak has defended public activists, political prisoners, human rights defenders and journalists. On 24 September 2020, Ms Kazak was detained by three unknown persons. She was forced into an unmarked car and taken to the Central District Department of Internal Affairs. This happened the day before she was due to have appeared in court with her client Ms Kolesnikova, who the authorities had attempted to forcefully deport to Ukraine but failed to when Ms Kolesnikova ripped up her passport.

The following day, 25 September, Ms Kazak appeared in court. State authorities alleged that she had been detained ‘on suspicion’ of participating in an unauthorised protest in Minsk on 30 August 2020 and failed to obey the command of a police officer. Ms Kazak denied being at the rally. Nevertheless, based on the testimonies of anonymous masked witnesses, who appeared in court by Skype, Ms Kazak was found guilty and fined 675 rubles. On 10 November 2020, an appellate court upheld this decision.

On 11 February 2021, Ms Kazak received notification of a pending disciplinary proceeding before the Commission. She was informed that it would determine whether she had committed actions incompatible with the title of ‘lawyer’, had discredited the legal profession by committing an administrative offence and whether her licence would be terminated.

On 19 February 2021, the Commission disbarred Ms Kazak; her lawyer was not allowed to attend the hearing. Ms Kazak appealed the decision and the hearing took place on 15 April 2021. The court upheld the Commission’s 19 February decision.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and immediate past Secretary-General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr jur hc, commented:‘When one looks at the number of reported disbarments in Belarus and who the disbarred are representing, the correlation between the two is apparent. This demonstrates either a lack of independence in the Belarus judiciary or a lack of understanding, or wilful disregard, of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers. In particular, Principle 18, which states: “Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients' causes as a result of discharging their functions.” We call for the rule of law to be upheld and for the reinstatement of Ms Kazak’s professional credentials and those of other lawyers similarly disbarred in Belarus.’

ENDS

Notes to the Editor

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  2. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
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