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Human Rights Watch urges authorities to quash prosecution against rights lawyer

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - Moscow, August 1, 2011 - Russian authorities should immediately drop charges filed against a leading human rights lawyer in Dagestan on July 27, 2011, and bring to justice the police officers who assaulted her, Human Rights Watch said today. The charges against the lawyer, Sapiyat Magomedova, appear to be retribution for her efforts to obtain justice for the police beating she suffered in June 2010, Human Rights Watch said.

Magomedova, 32, was charged with two criminal offenses - using violence against state officials and insulting police officers on duty. If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison and the revocation of her law license. The prosecutor's office also imposed travel restrictions on Magomedova, which will prevent her from attending The Dublin Platform for Human Rights Defenders, a high-profile, biennial gathering of activists from around the world hosted by the organization Front Line Defenders.

"How can lawyers seek justice for their clients when they face assault and prosecution for trying to do their job?" said Tanya Lokshina, senior Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The outrageous case against Magomedova is a stark example of vicious harassment against lawyers in Dagestan."

Over the past year, Human Rights Watch has documented five cases of attacks against and harassment of lawyers in Dagestan. Human Rights Watch urged Russian authorities to foster a normal working climate for lawyers in Dagestan in line with international standards.

On June 17, 2010, a police investigator in Khasavyurt refused Magomedova access to a client in police custody, and police officers punched and kicked her to remove her from the station. Magomedova fainted from the beating and had to be hospitalized. Medical reports said she suffered a concussion, a bruised rib cage, and injuries to her right wrist, chin and lips.

Magomedova promptly filed a complaint about the attack. The police then lodged a counter-complaint against her, alleging that Magomedova, who is 1.50 meters tall and weighs 40 kilograms at most, had attacked and publicly insulted the officers on duty.

On July 15, almost a year after Magomedova filed her complaint and after a public campaign in her support by Russian and international organizations, the police officers were charged with "abuse of official authority." Magomedova was formally charged 12 days later.

Magomedova told Human Rights Watch that during the past few months the police investigator in charge of the case repeatedly attempted to talk her into withdrawing her claim and reach a settlement with her alleged assailants. Magomedova adamantly refused and persevered in seeking justice. She has maintained that the police allegations against her are untrue and that false witnesses were procured to back them.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers provides, in principle 16, that "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 states that "where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities."

"Prosecuting Magomedova and imposing travel restrictions on her seems aimed not just to deter her from seeking justice for the police beating, but also from bringing attention to her case in Russia and abroad," Lokshina said.

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