Russian authorities have been on a rampage of repression in recent months, imprisoning a top political opposition figure, arresting record numbers of protesters, and sustaining a month of heightened persecution of independent media. This morning they crossed another Rubicon when Federal Security Service (FSB) agents in Moscow apprehended prominent human rights lawyer Ivan Pavlov.

In St. Petersburg, law enforcement officers searched Pavlov’s home and the office of Team 29, a group of human rights lawyers he leads. They also searched his summer cottage and broke down the door at the home of another Team 29 staffer.

The FSB brought Pavlov in for questioning on charges of disclosing information on a preliminary investigation. The charge sheet, published by Team 29, states that Pavlov gave the newspaper Vedomosti a copy of the indictment against his client, Ivan Safranov, the former Vedomosti investigative journalist in FSB custody since July on dubious treason charges.

Pavlov faces a maximum three-month sentence. But he also faces disbarment, which may be the aim of this outrageous move against him. According to media reports, because Pavlov refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement on the Safranov case, the FSB complained to the Justice Ministry and tried unsuccessfully to have him disbarred.   

Pavlov is a fearless and formidable defense attorney who takes on some of the toughest cases in today’s Russia – those involving highly questionable and sometimes Kafkaesque treason, state secrets, and similar charges. He gives ordinary people hope when facing down the repressive machinery of the FSB and Russia’s justice system that almost always bends to it. 

In 2018 Human Rights Watch honored Pavlov for his activism. He told us then that the previous year, Team 29 “helped seven people get out of jail by pointing out the absurdity of the government cases against them.” The absurdity of these charges made the authorities look foolish. And as Pavlov said, “Unfortunately, those who make the government look foolish invite its wrath. So my team and I are targeted and harassed. Our reputations are smeared. Our private lives are invaded.” And now they are being searched, and Pavlov is charged.  

Pavlov underscored that the risks were worth the goal – giving people their dignity, ensuring their right to question the government and be skeptical about the answers, and keeping them out of prison. 

Whatever bogus justifications the authorities have for prosecuting Pavlov, they should drop the charges and any effort to have him disbarred.