New Zealand Law Society - Ten countries where lawyers are under attack

Ten countries where lawyers are under attack

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The Law Society of England and Wales has submitted information to the UN Human Rights Council that an increasingly authoritarian government in Egypt is systematically undermining the rule of law, attacking legal process, lawyers and human rights defenders. It says lawyers are routinely subjected to harassment, arrest and prosecution.


Jakarta-based human rights lawyer Veronica Koman has been named as a criminal suspect by Indonesian police and accused of the crime of “incitement”. Ms Koman has moved to Australia, where she has been awarded the Sir Ronald Wilson Human Rights Award. She is being targeted by Indonesia for her advocacy on behalf of West Papuan clients and for circulating information about recent events in West Papua on social media. Resource-rich West Papua is ruled by Indonesia, but has a growing independence movement.


Chinese human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng was detained in Beijing in January 2018 in front of his young son after he wrote an open letter calling for constitutional reforms, including multi-candidate elections. He was later charged with “inciting subversion of state power” but has vanished. His wife Xu Yan was told in April 2018 that he was being held in Xuzhou City Detention Centre but after some 20 trips there she has failed to obtain any information. Yu’s government-appointed lawyer told her that he had been put on trial in May 2019, but no-one knows if he has been sentenced or where he is being held.


The 10th annual Day of the Endangered Lawyer on 24 January 2020 will focus on Pakistan. This year Pakistani lawyers have reported the murder of advocate Mahr Muhammad Yasin Sahu in May, and murderous attacks on seven other advocates. Pakistani lawyers have repeatedly taken strike action, with national strikes on 13 and 27 July, and 8 and 28 August.


Human rights lawyer Germán Romero Sánchez has received death threats – the latest on 3 October. He has also been followed and had a laptop with information about corrupt officials stolen. Several lawyer rights organisations, including Lawyers for Lawyers, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, Colombian Carvana and Obseratoire International des Avocats, have jointly called on the Colombian government to insist that the State Prosecutor’s Office effectively investigates the threats and robbery and takes all necessary measures to protect Mr Romero Sánchez.


The Integrated Bar of the Philippines says over 30 members of the Philippine Bar have been murdered since July 2016. An international fact-finding delegation of lawyers visited the Philippines in March 2019. The day before it got there, attorney Rex Jasper Lopoz was murdered. The delegation’s report found that severe human rights violations are being conducted against lawyers and other legal professionals.

The Netherlands

Two Dutch lawyers have been attacked in recent months, with one murdered. Derk Wiersum, 44, was shot dead while with his wife outside their home in Amsterdam on 18 September. Mr Wiersum was representing a key witness – a suspect turned informant – in an organised crime trial. The Dutch lawyers’ journal Advocatenblad reported at the end of October that 55% of lawyers in the Netherlands said they sometimes feel unsafe and 4% regularly worried about their safety. In early November another Dutch lawyer, Philippe Schol, 43, was seriously wounded after being shot in broad daylight in the German town of Gronau, near the border with the Netherlands. Unknown assailants opened fire on Mr Schol, who had reportedly been repeatedly threatened. The victim lives in Germany but works in the Dutch border town of Enschede.

Saudi Arabia

Lawyers Rights Watch Canada has called for the immediate suspension of Saudi Arabia from the UN Human Rights Council. This follows the continued detention of human rights advocate Samar Badawi, who has been a prominent advocate for women’s rights and also sought the release of several imprisoned human rights defenders. Since her arrest on 30 July 2018 her whereabouts have been unknown, although she reportedly appeared in a secret session before the Special Criminal Court in June 2019.


In March human rights lawyer and women’s rights defender Nasrin Soloudeh was sentenced to 33 years and six months in prison and 148 lashes in connection with her human rights work. She had been arrested at her home on 13 June 2018. She will be required to serve 17 years. By June 2019, 1,188,381 people had signed an Amnesty International petition calling on Iran to stop attacks on human rights lawyers and defenders. In July human rights lawyer Amirsalar Davoudi was sentenced to 29 years and 3 months in prison and 111 lashes on charges resulting from his human rights work. He was interrogated in detention without a lawyer present and was convicted and sentenced in his absence. Under Iran’s sentencing guidelines, he is required to serve 15 years of this sentence.


On 16 October, the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice 2nd Penal Chamber rejected the appeals and confirmed the sentences of up to 18 years’ imprisonment imposed in March on 20 lawyers who are members of the Contemporary Lawyers’ Association. Lawyers Rights Watch Canada says the convictions and sentences are contrary to international human rights law, contrary to Turkey’s constitution and contrary to basic principles of fairness and justice. There is strong evidence that the lawyers, who were sentenced for knowingly aiding or belonging to a terrorist organisation, were simply representing people accused of those offences.

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