Revocation of Alexander Pylchenko’s law licence: Chronicle of events
Alexander Pylchenko was one of the lawyers who was persecuted for political reasons in 2020, which resulted in his licence to practice law being revoked. In June 2020, Pylchenko became a lawyer for one of the leaders of the pre-election campaign, Viktor Babariko, and in September 2020, he took the case of Maria Kolesnikova. Pylchenko’s law licence was terminated on 16 October 2020 by the Ministry of Justice Collegium on the basis of the Qualification Commission’s opinion.
Human rights activists considered the revocation to be politically motivated. International organisations have repeatedly sent applications and appeals in support of Pylchenko.

In this article, we document the events related to the revocation of Pylchenko’s law licence.
In June 2020, Alexander Pylchenko became a lawyer for Viktor Babariko.

On 14 August 2020, an interview with Pylchenko was published on TUT.BY website, in which he expressed his opinion on what actions should have been taken by law enforcement officials and judicial bodies in the circumstances of large, unjustified uses of violence and torture against civilians by security fources (numerous reports of police brutality have been published in media since 9 August 2020).

On 7 October 2020, Pylchenko received a notice from the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus notifying him that a meeting of the Qualification Commission on Advocacy in the Republic of Belarus would take place on 15 October 2020, which would consider the termination of his law licence (the commission exists under the Ministry of Justice and consists mainly of representatives of the Ministry and other state bodies and deals with the termination of licences). No official statements were made by the Ministry of Justice until 7 October 2020. The materials that were to be considered at the commission’s meeting had been provided to Pylchenko for review on 9 October 2020. It was assumed that the motives for the licence revocation lay in the publication of his 14 August 2020 interview.

On 12 October 2020, Belarusian human rights defenders sent a message to the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego Garcia Sayan, and to the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, Anais Marin.

On 15 October 2020, the Qualification Commission assembly on advocacy in the Republic of Belarus took place, during which the issue of termination of the law licence issued to Pylchenko was considered. The meeting took place behind closed doors; only Qualification Commission members and Pylchenko were allowed to attend. The Qualification Commission refused to let in lawyers who Pylchenko had specially invited to participate in the meeting to provide him with legal assistance. The meeting was attended by 14 members of the Qualification Commission (full composition of the Commission was 17 people): five representatives of the Ministry of Justice, two representatives of the Presidential Administration and the General Prosecutor’s Office (one per each body), the dean of the law faculty of Belarusian State University (BSU), the headmaster of BSU College of Law, as well as five lawyers from different territorial collegia.


Qualification Commission’s Opinion

The Qualification Commission came to the conclusion that “the statements made by A. Pylchenko in media about the events that have received a great public response are incompetent, they mislead the public about the competence of state bodies and call for illegal actions”. Pylchenko’s statements were recognised by the commission as “actions that discredit the title of a lawyer and a legal professional, which qualifies as a misdemeanour incompatible with the title of a lawyer”. At the same time, the opinion adopted by the commission does not contain any specific reasonings or motives for which the commission considers those actions incompetent and calling for illegal actions.
On 16 October 2020, the Ministry of Justice’s Collegium, basing its opinion on that of the Qualification Commission, made a decision to terminate Pylchenko’s licence, starting from 16 October 2020. From then, Pylchenko was not allowed to practice law. The decision was final and came into force from the moment of adoption; however, it could be appealed in court.

On 16 October 2020, the Warsaw Bar Association prepared an open letter and a resolution (addressed to the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus).

On 19 October 2020, an appeal was prepared by the President of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (addressed to the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus).

On 21 October 2020, a letter from the International Commission of Jurists was prepared (addressed to the Belarusian authorities).

On 3 November 2020, an appeal was prepared by the international non-governmental organisation (INGO) Lawyers for Lawyers and the Law Society of England and Wales (addressed to the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus).

On 26 November 2020, a preliminary court hearing was held on the complaint of Pylchenko against the Ministry of Justice’s decision. Read the meeting summary here (in Russian).

On 21 December 2020, experts from the Center for Human Rights of the American Bar Association presented their Preliminary Report on the revocation of Pylchenko’s licence.

On 23 December 2020, a court hearing was held on the complaint of Pylchenko against the Ministry of Justice’s decision. Experts from the Belarusian Helsinki Committee prepared and presented the ‘amicus curiae’ opinion on the hearing.

On 24 December 2020, the Moskovsky district court of Minsk, represented by Judge nna Yalova, refused the appeal. ‘Viasna (Spring)’has prepared a detailed overview of the appeal process, and the lawyers’ remarks can be found here.

Human rights defenders’ opinions
The opinions were prepared by an expert of the ‘Viasna (Spring)’ (deprived of accreditation). It appears from the stated facts that:

1) The assessment of Pylchenko’s statements to determine whether they were incompatible with the title of lawyer and discrediting the legal profession was conducted by a commission where lawyers accounted for only one third of the total number of its members. The commission is established by the Ministry of Justice and is chaired by the Deputy Minister of Justice. This allows us to state the lack of independence of the body that made the decision to terminate the lawyer’s status; and

2) Pylchenko’s law licence was terminated solely due to his public expression of his professional opinion on the need to take certain legal actions. This circumstance allows us to recognise the actions of the Ministry of Justice as persecution of Pylchenko for the legitimate exercise of the rights guaranteed to him in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, namely the right to freedom of expression (Article 19).
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