Navalny’s Lawyer Finds Himself a Target of Putin’s Crackdown

VYAZY, Russia — When the spooks began following him once more, Ivan Pavlov felt relaxed.

“That’s our profession,” the lawyer famed for taking up Russian spies wrote on Facebook.

Two days later got here an early morning knock on his Moscow lodge room door, and Mr. Pavlov realized he ought to have been extra frightened.

For a quarter century, Mr. Pavlov defended scientists, journalists and others swept into the maw of what he calls Russia’s “leviathan” — the safety state descended from the Soviet Okay.G.B. Crusading in opposition to state secrecy, Mr. Pavlov turned his authorized battles into spectacles. Appealing to public opinion, he typically helped his purchasers avert the worst.

Now the leviathan threatens to swallow Mr. Pavlov. In April he took on one of his most explosive instances but: the accusation of extremism in opposition to the organizations led by the jailed opposition chief, Aleksei A. Navalny. Within days, Mr. Pavlov was arrested. Now, he himself has develop into a image of the Russian state’s ever-wider crackdown on dissent.

It was one factor to defend purchasers from the arbitrary energy of the state; it has been fairly one other, Mr. Pavlov has found, to really feel it deployed in opposition to himself. The story of Mr. Pavlov — one of Russia’s best-known legal professionals and freedom of info activists — is a story of how rapidly fashionable Russia has modified.

“I feel this injustice, this terrible injustice,” Mr. Pavlov stated in an interview this week, nonetheless seeming shaken by how swiftly his fortunes had shifted. “My conscience is clean. And yet they came for me.”

Mr. Pavlov, 50, spoke at his nation home on northwest Russia’s rugged Baltic coast, exterior St. Petersburg. His spouse, Yekaterina, has been studying Facebook posts and Telegram messages aloud to him. Mr. Pavlov was launched from custody pending trial, however he’s not allowed to make use of the web, speak on the cellphone or obtain mail.

In the luxurious summer season woods and on the slim sandy seaside, the place you possibly can see Finland within the distance, he at the very least feels considerably liberated from the surveillance goons who canine him within the metropolis.

Mr. Pavlov and his spouse, Yekaterina, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland. He is forbidden to make use of any kind of digital communication or to obtain mail.Credit…Mary Gelman for The New York Times

And he has a bit extra time to mirror on a profession that traces the arc of President Vladimir V. Putin’s rule. Mr. Pavlov comes from a army household, and had figured on a Red Army profession himself till a basketball harm in 1987 derailed these plans. Instead, he studied programming, then went to legislation college in St. Petersburg after the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Just a decade in the past — throughout a interval Mr. Pavlov calls “peacetime” — his advocacy for transparency was being heard by the Russian authorities. The Kremlin agreed to undertake freedom of info legal guidelines and disclosure guidelines for officers that have been liberal even by Western requirements.

But because the reformers in authorities misplaced energy, and Mr. Putin began his third presidential time period in 2012 suspecting the West was plotting to unseat him, Mr. Pavlov turned regarded first as an adversary — after which, he believes, as an enemy.

His pro-transparency activism and his work as a protection legal professional more and more melded into one. He took on the instances of individuals accused of treason and different nationwide safety crimes and tried to chop by means of the secrecy that the authorities imposed on their trials. His work confirmed how Russians have realized to search out pockets of freedom and stress factors on the authorities inside an authoritarian system.

To some, the notion of combating for justice in Russia’s notoriously politicized courts can appear ridiculous. Mr. Pavlov will not be amongst them. “There is no such thing as a hopeless case,” he stated, quoting one of his early mentors.

“We don’t have other courts,” he added, conceding that the very best his purchasers can usually hope for is a jail sentence decreased to a few years. “We can’t just abandon people who have been caught in the leviathan’s jaws.”

Clever authorized briefs don’t get a lawyer very far in Russia. But intelligent publicity campaigns, in a nation the place the web stays largely uncensored, can.

“This leviathan always wants to look very serious and brutal,” Mr. Pavlov stated. “The more you condemn Russia for violating human rights or fundamental norms and so on, the more Russia responds, ‘Yup, that’s us.’”Credit…Mary Gelman for The New York Times

In 2016, as an illustration, Mr. Pavlov instructed reporters about a shopper in southern Russia just lately sentenced to seven years in jail for treason. Her crime? She had messaged a good friend in close by Georgia remarking on a passing Russian army convoy in 2008, months earlier than Russia went to warfare with the nation.

A journalist requested Mr. Putin in regards to the case at his annual information convention; confronted with a patently absurd conviction, Mr. Putin pardoned the girl, Oksana Sevastidi, a few months later. The lesson for Mr. Pavlov was that making the authorities look petty and incompetent was his best technique.

Earnest indignation, then again, will be counterproductive.

“This leviathan always wants to look very serious and brutal,” Mr. Pavlov stated. “The more you condemn Russia for violating human rights or fundamental norms and so on, the more Russia responds, ‘Yup, that’s us.’”

Mr. Pavlov heads a group of legal professionals and activists known as Team 29 that produces podcasts and YouTube movies about its instances, together with recommendation columns on questions like, “How many times can you go to a protest march without going to prison?”

Mr. Pavlov and his Team 29 colleagues’ purchasers embody the niece of the Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg, who’s searching for entry to Okay.G.B. paperwork that would make clear his mysterious dying within the Soviet Union, and several other Russian scientists whose contacts with overseas colleagues are being investigated by Russian counterintelligence brokers.

In the method, Mr. Pavlov has emerged as one of essentially the most outstanding adversaries of Russia’s highly effective home intelligence company, the Federal Security Service, or F.S.B. The company has led the current crackdown on the opposition, analysts say, and tried to assassinate Mr. Navalny final 12 months. (The Kremlin denies that the authorities had any position in Mr. Navalny’s poisoning, or that there’s an organized marketing campaign in opposition to the opposition.)

Mr. Pavlov tries to know the worldview and the motivations of the F.S.B., which Mr. Putin headed within the 1990s. Barred by legislation from touring overseas, he notes, its officers see any contact between Russians and foreigners as suspect.

“They truly, earnestly believe that they are doing something very important — more important than all of our laws,” Mr. Pavlov stated. “They believe they are the people ensuring national security in the country.”

The F.S.B. can be behind his present predicament, Mr. Pavlov says, delivering long-awaited payback. The resolution to tackle the Navalny case — by which the authorities are searching for to outlaw the opposition chief’s organizations as extremist, probably exposing 1000’s of supporters to prosecution — pushed senior officers to behave in opposition to him, he says.

Officially, Mr. Pavlov is being investigated on suspicion of making public labeled info from a treason case in opposition to one other shopper, the previous journalist Ivan Safronov. The alleged crimes: publishing the F.S.B.’s charging doc in opposition to Mr. Safronov and telling reporters the pseudonym of a witness in opposition to him.

Mr. Pavlov was launched from custody pending trial, however his present state of authorized limbo might drag on for greater than a 12 months.Credit…Mary Gelman for The New York Times

Those particulars will be made public, Mr. Pavlov insists, as a result of they don’t represent state secrets and techniques. The case is thus a take a look at of whether or not Mr. Pavlov’s anti-secrecy push can survive Russia’s newest wave of repression. And it might decide his skilled future: If he’s convicted, he faces 480 hours of neighborhood service and would lose his capability to apply legislation.

Mr. Pavlov’s present state of limbo might final for a 12 months or extra, he figures. At his home close to the coast, he has his big swing to distract him — he and his spouse normal it out of a trampoline in the course of the coronavirus lockdown final 12 months — and his canines, Hard and Easy.

He is heartened by the general public “signal” despatched to the Kremlin by legal professionals, writers and different outstanding figures who’ve signed open letters on his behalf. In the previous, such declarations of help would go a great distance towards liberating one of his purchasers. But instances could have modified, he fears, with new arrests of journalists, activists and politicians making headlines with numbing frequency in current months.

“If the authorities hear this signal and open their jaws, then everything will be fine,” Mr. Pavlov stated, referring to his personal destiny.

The hazard, he stated, is that the general public is turning into inured, emboldening the federal government to behave with nonetheless extra impunity.

“People’s pain threshold has gotten much higher,” he stated. “They have become less sensitive to the bad things the state does.”