Russian Lawyers Claim Kremlin Abuses

Exhibit A: Boris Kuznetsov, who has won U.S. asylum after Russian authorities threatened prosecution.

Russian lawyer Boris Kuznetsov speaks to the media as he presents his book "It sunk" about the nuclear submarine Kursk disaster, in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Russian lawyer Boris Kuznetsov speaks to the media.

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Moskalenko adds that fear has already driven down the number of young lawyers applying for jobs at the Centre of International Protection, an organization she founded that specializes in advocacy at the European Court of Human Rights. "We know that it's not safe for them, and we warn them when they come to us," she says. The center's tax payments have been under investigation since 2006, and in April around 20 men broke into its offices, trashing the entrance areas.

Kuznetsov's story, meanwhile, is straight out of a spy novel. His problems began while he was defending Levon Chakhmakhchyan, a member of the upper house of the Russian parliament, against charges of bribery. Kuznetsov discovered documents marked "classified" that indicated the FSB wiretapped the senator without court authorization, and submitted them to Russia's Constitutional Court. Shortly thereafter, Kuznetsov received word that he was about to be prosecuted for revealing state secrets.

Driving home to his dacha one day in early July, he says he was followed. "That night I summoned a few clients in order to distract the people watching, and then went round the back of the property, got in a car, and headed for Ukraine," he recalls. In a tense moment, he says, border guards stopped him for a little longer than usual while checking his documents but eventually let him pass.

Today, Kuznetsov's lawyers say they have been denied access to the details of the charges against him and only know in the vaguest terms what he is accused of. They argue that violations of human rights—in this case, wiretapping the senator—cannot be considered a state secret under Russian law. "It's a lawyer's responsibility to communicate them," says Ruslan Koblev, a member of Kuznetsov's legal team.

No one at the city prosecutor's investigative committee was available to comment on the case.

Kuznetsov links his persecution to previous cases in which he has opposed the government; other lawyers, such as Krivosheyev of the trade union, say they support Kuznetsov, though they add that there may be more to the case than he has revealed.

"If I'd been a bit younger, I would have remained in Russia," says Kuznetsov. "It would have been hell."