Prominent lawyer leaves Russia citing government pressure

A prominent lawyer who represented both a former Russian journalist accused of treason and the team of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny said on Tuesday that he has left Russia after authorities launched a criminal probe against him.

A rights group that the lawyer headed has also shut down under government pressure.

In a statement posted on the Telergram messaging app, Ivan Pavlov said has left for Georgia and drew attention to restrictions imposed on him as a suspect in a criminal probe.

“I was barred from using means of communication and the internet, from talking to defendants and some of my colleagues. In a nutshell, I was prohibited (to do) all things without which the work of a defense lawyer can’t be effective,” Pavlov said. “The bans didn’t apply to one thing — leaving the country. It was a sign pointing to a way out.”

Russian authorities charged Pavlov in April with disclosing information related to a police investigation — a criminal offense punishable by a fine, community service or detention of up to three months. Pavlov was barred from contacting witnesses in the case or to use either the Internet or a mobile phone until investigators completed their probe.

Pavlov has said the accusations against him were connected to his defense of Ivan Safronov, a former Russian journalist charged with treason in a case that has been widely seen as retribution for his journalistic work. The lawyer maintained his innocence and said he considered the case against him “revenge” for his work on cases investigated by Russia’s Security Service, or FSB.

The probe targeting Pavlov was opened shortly after he started representing the Foundation for Fighting Corruption, set up by President Vladimir Putin’s longtime foe and opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The foundation and the sprawling network of Navalny’s regional offices have been outlawed as extremist earlier this year.

Opposition supporters, independent journalists and human rights activists have been facing increasing government pressure in Russia ahead of the September parliamentary election, widely seen as an important part of Putin’s efforts to cement his rule ahead of the 2024 presidential vote.

Team 29, an association of lawyers and journalists specializing in cases of treason, espionage and freedom of information that Pavlov headed announced in July that it was shutting down after authorities blocked its website for allegedly publishing content from an “undesirable” organization.

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