Crimean Human Rights Lawyers Appeal for Solidarity in Wake of Attacks
By Brian Dooley
KYIV: The Crimean Solidarity movement was set up by lawyers, journalists, and relatives of those arrested following the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014.
The organization has persisted through many years of struggle, and still exists despite constant threats and attacks. Many in the movement are citizen journalists regularly targeted this year by Russian authorities in Crimea. Their homes are routinely raided, and they are often jailed.
Now, three lawyers who represent those targeted have themselves been attacked. The three – Lilia Hemedzhy, Rustem Kyamilev, and Nazim Sheikhmambetov – are advocates representing many of those in the estimated 200 cases brought against members of the Crimea Solidarity movement.
“They are under constant surveillance, and now the authorities have taken away their permission to practice as lawyers. It was done on a technicality,” Demir Minadirov of Crimea Solidarity told me when we met in Kyiv last week. In July the three were stripped of their lawyers’ licenses, effectively preventing them from representing their clients in court in criminal cases.
He says since 2017, pressure on the movement has intensified and around 50 members have been jailed, with many detained on the word of secret witnesses.
“We’re trying to make these cases as well-known as possible, to draw attention to what’s happening in Crimea. We’re asking for international solidarity from lawyers and lawyers’ associations. We want them to contact the authorities and say they know about what’s happened to Lilia Hemedzhy, Rustem Kyamilev, and Nazim Sheikhmambetov,” he said.
Human Rights First knows the power of international solidarity with human rights lawyers. HRF’s roots are in the legal human rights community, and we were founded in 1978 as the Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights.
Since then, we’ve worked with human right lawyers all over the world. In the last decade we’ve supported and worked alongside human rights defenders who are lawyers in places including Bahrain, Egypt, Hong Kong, Hungary, Kenya, Northern Ireland, Poland, Saudi Arabia, The Philippines, The United Arab Emirates, and of course Ukraine.
Some of the lawyers whose work we’ve highlighted are in prison, others risk their lives to carry out their legal work in defense of the rights of others, and most are under some sort of harassment or pressure. We know from decades of experience that public solidarity with lawyers at risk in other parts of the world can be a powerful support.
Demir hopes that lawyers in the United States and elsewhere will take up the cases of the Crimea Solidarity lawyers. Their cases have begun to receive some international attention, and the three are still in Crimea, having filed an appeal against their disbarment.
Stripping these human rights lawyers of their licenses is clearly a move to silence those standing up for people being targeted in Crimea, and to deny political prisoners proper legal representation. It is also a message to other lawyers in Ukraine about what could happen to them if Russia occupies territories where they are based.
Lawyers and legal associations in the United States and elsewhere should publicly condemn these actions and make clear that they stand with the Crimean lawyers.
The International Federation for Human Rights has been tracking these cases closely and suggests emails be sent to the Bar Association of Crimea at а[email protected], asking that the lawyers be reinstated and allowed to continue with their vital legal work.