Yesterday, Russian authorities arbitrarily arrested lawyer Edem Semedlyaev, while he was advising clients at a police station, who themselves had been arbitrarily arrested. Today court released Semedlyaev pending review of the charges.
Semedlyaev is one of the few lawyers who continue to risk working on politically sensitive cases in Crimea.
Semedlyaev arrived at the police station in Simferopol on Monday afternoon, to provide legal representation for Crimean Tatars detained earlier that day. The Crimean Tatars were detained outside a military court building, where they arrived to observe an appeal hearing in one of the many bogus “terrorism” cases brought against Crimean Tatars since Russia occupied the peninsula in 2014.
Due to quarantine restrictions, the judge allowed only five into the courtroom, while the rest remained outside. Although those outside complied with police orders to maintain the required distance apart and wear masks, after 20 minutes the National Guard arrived and detained 21 men, including several journalists. They took them to the police station and charged them with violating quarantine restrictions.
Another lawyer present at the police station told Human Rights Watch that Semedlyaev had asked an officer from the Interior Ministry’s anti-extremism department not to take away one of the detainees, to whom he wanted to provide legal counsel when he was finished with his current client. The officer refused, and Semedlyaev started an audio recording on his phone. The officer ordered Semedlyaev to stop recording and then suddenly ordered him and another lawyer to fully undress, allegedly to see if they had any “extremist tattoos.” Semedlyaev refused and was arrested on two counts of disobeying a police officer, an administrative offence punishable by a fine and up to 15 days in jail. He spent the night in a holding cell. He appeared before a court this evening and was released pending review of the charges.
Russia has been systematically violating its human rights obligations as the occupying power in Crimea and continuously tightening the screws of repression, especially against Crimean Tatars.
Since 2015, authorities have opened numerous criminal investigations against Crimean Tatars on groundless extremism charges and jailed dozens of Crimean Tatar men, without credible evidence or basic due process.
The circumstances of Semedlyaev’s arrest speak volumes about the lawlessness and impunity in today’s Crimea. All charges against Semedlyaev should be dropped and respect for rule of law, including the role of lawyers, restored in the peninsula.