Prominent lawyer for opposition figures facing disbarment

A lawyer who defended a number of government opponents in high-profile cases has "failed" a performance review by the justice ministry and may have her license revoked.

On Tuesday, the justice ministry's commission concluded that Hanna Bakhtsina had "insufficient qualifications" for performing the duties of defense lawyer.

When reached by BelaPAN, Hanna Bakhtsina acknowledged that she may be disbarred. According to the woman, she has worked as a lawyer for 25 years.

Speaking about why she had failed the performance review, Ms. Bakhtsina said that a template used by her for concluding contracts with clients had been found to differ slightly from the one recommended by the justice ministry. In addition, the commission even paid attention to grammar mistakes in her documents, according to the lawyer.

Ms. Bakhtsina described the decision as politically motivated, explaining that she had recently defended blogger Eduard Palchys and activist Miraslaw Lazowski. The latter spent months in custody earlier this year and remains charged in a so-called riot case that has drawn much criticism from the international community.

Ms. Bakhtsina said that the commission's decision was "de facto disbarment."

Meanwhile, civil society activist Nina Shydlowskaya warned that the authorities may use performance reviews to disbar more lawyers who defended people in the riot case.

Ms. Bakhtsina is the first defense lawyer to be facing what appears to be politically motivated disbarment as a result of a fresh wave of "unscheduled" performance reviews.

Earlier this month, the Vyasna Human Rights Center expressed concern over the performance reviews, describing them as the government's possible new campaign to put pressure on defense lawyers. It alerted Monica Pinto, the UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, to the reviews and suggested that Ms. Pinto call on the Belarusian authorities to avoid interfering in the activity of bar associations and putting pressure on defense lawyers.

In 2011, the justice ministry disbarred several lawyers for former presidential candidates and other individuals charged in a so-called mass disorder case that was opened following the December 19, 2010 post-election street protest in Minsk.

In July 2011, Ms. Bakhtsina, who defended journalist Iryna Khalip in the mass disorder case, was told that she had failed a performance review by the justice ministry. However, she kept her lawyer's license at that time.