Russia targets lawyer over media comments on treason case

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Russian lawyer Ivan Pavlov, center, surrounded his colleagues gestures speaking to journalists at the Russia's Investigative Committee in Moscow, Russia, Friday, April 30, 2021. Russian authorities have launched a criminal probe against Pavlov, who is representing a former Russian journalist accused of treason and the team of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, accusing him of disclosing information related to a police investigation. Pavlov told reporters that his Moscow hotel room was raided on Friday morning and he was summoned to Russia's Investigative Committee for interrogation as a suspect in a criminal case. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

MOSCOW – Russian authorities have launched a criminal probe against a lawyer representing a former Russian journalist accused of treason and the team of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, accusing him of disclosing information related to a police investigation.

St. Petersburg-based lawyer Ivan Pavlov told reporters Friday he was formally charged with the criminal offense, punishable by a fine, community service or detention of up to three months, after his Moscow hotel room was raided on Friday morning and he was summoned to Russia's Investigative Committee for interrogation.

Pavlov appeared in court later Friday and was ordered not to contact witnesses in the case or to use the Internet or a cellphone.

Pavlov's colleague, Yevgeny Smirnov, had reported that the lawyer was detained. But Pavlov's spokesperson, Yelizaveta Alexandrova-Zorina, later clarified to The Associated Press that Pavlov formally wasn't arrested even though he was de-facto detained in his hotel room during the search.

The Team 29 association of lawyers that Pavlov heads said on social media that its office in St. Petersburg, the apartments of one of its employees and of Pavlov's wife, and Pavlov's house in the countryside were also raided Friday.

Opposition supporters, independent journalists and human rights activists have been facing increasing government pressure in Russia. Raids targeting Pavlov and his team elicited outrage in the Russian legal and human rights community, with prominent lawyers and legal aid groups calling on authorities to stop “using the law as a tool of pressure on lawyers.”

Pavlov 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. He said he was targeted because he shared information about the case with the media.

“The investigators maintain that I committed a crime when I told you, reporters, that your colleague is being unlawfully held in Lefortovo (pre-trial detention center) on absurd accusations,” the lawyer said.