Sometimes you’ll hear people say that in modern Russia, it’s a waste of money to hire a lawyer for politically motivated cases. After all, they say, the person will be found guilty either way, and they’ll still get a sentence.
Solidarity Zone explain why having a lawyer is vital for political prisoners in Russia.
First, a lawyer is the only person who is free to visit a prisoner in pre-trial detention and communicate with them without any censorship. Generally speaking, it is through lawyers that we hear about prisoners being tortured or otherwise pressured. And sometimes, if the prison administration blocks a prisoner’s correspondence, their defense lawyer becomes their only channel for communication with the outside world.
Second, the very fact of having hired a lawyer often serves as protection against torturing and other forms of pressure. After all, despite the Russian authorities’ high tolerance for torture, the security forces try to be secretive about the use of violence, and they strongly dislike receiving inspections from supervisory bodies. Once a person has a lawyer, it is no longer possible to torture them in secret.
Third, lawyers are the people who are always present when the accused goes through interrogations, investigations, and court hearings. That is, the lawyer is the only person who helps the accused actually confront the system, rather than leaving them to do it alone.
Fourth, a lawyer will always advise the accused to prevent them from worsening their situation during a testimony. After all, it is often on the basis of the defendant’s testimony that they are reclassified to more serious charges. Having a lawyer reduces the risk of aggravating those charges.
Fifth, despite the political situation in Russia, lawyers do continue, in some cases, to successfully reduce the scope of charges, the length of prison sentences, and sometimes even get their clients released. For example, Alexey Rozhkov and Andrei Bogdanov, who were accused of setting fire to military registration and enlistment offices, were released from pre-trial detention.
Sixth, it is up to the lawyer to ensure the trial gets publicity, by reporting on the case to independent media outlets. Otherwise, we are often left having to learn about anti-war cases from propaganda sources, which do their best to smear the defendants.
It is worth noting that we are talking only about bona fide lawyers who cooperate with human rights organizations, or simply have not lost their sense of conscience. Unfortunately, not all lawyers are like that: even a privately hired lawyer to whom you have paid money may not report your torture, and try to convince you to testify in a way that benefits the investigation. Solidarity Zone ask you to support us in covering lawyers’ fees : it’s thanks to these lawyers that prisoners can be protected from torture, have contact with the outside world, and not be left alone to face the system.