New Zealand Law Society - Day of the Endangered Lawyer

Day of the Endangered Lawyer

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Last month, on 23 January, lawyers in Manila marched to the Supreme Court to mark the “Day of the Endangered Lawyer”. The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers released figures showing that since 2001, 41 lawyers and 18 judges have been murdered in the Philippines while carrying out their work. 

Law is a profession where the work often involves conflict and intense emotions. The courageous commitment to their work by lawyers around the world during 2014 led to the deaths of some and the loss of liberty of many more.

New Zealand is renowned for its adherence to the rule of law and institutions which uphold human rights. An inherent part of this is the ability to criticise the justice system, to advocate for change, and for lawyers to represent their clients without fear of arrest or violence. This is not so for members of the legal profession in other jurisdictions.

At the moment three Saudi Arabian lawyers are serving 5-8 years in prison for using Twitter to say the Saudi justice system was “backwards”. The lawyers had reportedly accused authorities of arbitrarily detaining people and accused the courts of releasing corrupt people connected to the ruling regime.

Human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko was sentenced to two years in a Swaziland prison on 25 July 2014 for writing two articles which criticised the judicial system. He was charged with “scandalising the judiciary” and contempt of court.

On 8 January 2012 an Iranian “revolutionary court” sentenced lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani to 18 years in prison for “being awarded the [2009] Nuremberg International Human Rights Award” and “co-founding the Defenders of Human Rights Center” among other crimes. An appeal court later reduced his sentence to 13 years.

China continues to incarcerate human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang without trial. According to the English Guardian newspaper, he was arrested in May 2014 on suspicion of “creating disturbances and illegally obtaining personal information”.

During 2014 at least 10 lawyers were murdered because they were working as lawyers. Their names should be recorded:

Syrian lawyer Roshdy El Sheikh Rasheed was abducted from his home in government-controlled Tadmor on 31 January 2014 and has not been heard from again. Rasheed is the vice-president of the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in Syria. The organisation’s objective is to promote adherence to human rights principles in Arab states. There are grave fears for other Syrian human rights lawyers who have also disappeared without trace, including Razan Zeitouneh (in December 2013) and Khalil Ma’touq (on 2 October 2012).

Human rights lawyer Rashid Rehman, 53, was killed on 7 May 2014 in Multan, Pakistan when two gunmen entered his office and opened fire. Rehman had received death threats related to taking on the case of university lecturer Junaid Hafeez who was accused of blasphemy. All other lawyers had refused to act. Rehman was a well known advocate and a regional co-ordinator for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. The gunmen were never caught and Hafeez’s latest lawyer, Shahbaz Gurmani, escaped unhurt after motorbike-riding gunmen attacked his residence in December 2014.

Libyan human rights lawyer Salwa Bugaighis, 50, was shot and stabbed to death by five hooded men wearing military uniforms in Benghazi, Libya on 25 June 2014. The murderers broke into her house not long after she had returned from voting in the general elections. By the end of 2014 no-one had been prosecuted for her death. Her husband, Essam al-Ghariani was abducted and is still missing. Bugaighis joined some of the first protests against Gaddafi in 2011 and was a founding member of Libya’s National Transitional Council.

Kentucky, United States attorney Mark Stanziano, 57, was shot and killed on 27 June 2014 by a mentally ill former client who believed Stanziano had refused to help him with a legal matter and had laughed at him. Stanziano’s wife Bethany was later reported as saying her husband had helped the killer many times, including buying lunch for him and offering to pay for medical treatment.

Attorney Rodolfo Felicio, 66, of the Philippines was killed by four gunmen on 24 August 2014 at Taytay, Rizal while he was working on a number of land dispute cases. Felicio was an active member of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers and specialised in cases involving land disputes and the displacement of urban poor.

Russian lawyer Tatyana Akimtseva was gunned down in front of her apartment building in central Moscow on 12 September 2014. She had been representing a Russian businessman who had testified in court against the leader of a powerful gang. The gang leader was later sentenced to life imprisonment. Russian lawyers have since proposed an amendment to the Criminal Code, to raise the liability for endangering attorneys in the line of duty.

Iraqi human rights lawyer Samira Saleh al-Nuaimi was publicly executed in Mosul city on 22 September 2014 by members of the Islamic State (ISIS). ISIS stated that she was executed for apostasy on charges relating to “abandoning Islam”. The Lawyers for Lawyers organisation says she was abducted and tortured for five days before her murder after a post she made on Facebook, criticising the destruction of places of worship by ISIS in Mosul as “barbaric”. Al-Nuaimi had been active in working on detainee rights and poverty.

Another Russian lawyer, Vitaliy Moiseyev, and his wife Elenz Moiseyeva were both murdered near Moscow on 24 October 2014. The couple were reportedly shot at least 30 times. Moiseyev represented the same key witness in a case against a criminal gang as murdered lawyer Tatyana Akimtseva. The day before the murders the leader and other members of the gang had been found guilty of committing 22 murders and a number of other serious crimes. Moiseyev was due to testify in a separate case against leaders of another gang.

Bhima Yadav, 45, was fatally shot while in his home by two assailants who arrived on a motorbike on 23 December 2014 in Behlolpur, Noida, India. Police say the murder appears to have resulted from Yadav’s failure to obtain an order in his clients’ favour in an ongoing land dispute in which he had acted for four years. Yadav had taken a fee from his clients to get them bail after they were arrested but he was unable to obtain bail for all of them.

Another Indian lawyer, Devendra Khandelwal, 55, was lured to a bar near the district court in Indore on 23 December 2014, kidnapped and subsequently murdered. Khandelwal was involved in a case to determine ownership of a piece of land. Four alleged killers were subsequently charged and they were beaten up by angry lawyers when they appeared in court. Indore lawyers are now demanding enactment of a Lawyers Protection Act.

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