Amnesty International says Russian authorities have arbitrarily removed four lawyers representing jailed activist Lilia Chanysheva in the "politically motivated" case against her, leaving her without a legal counsel of her choice in violation of her right to a fair trial.
The London-based human rights watchdog on January 18 urged Russian Prosecutor-General Igor Krasnov to take steps to ensure that Chanysheva is released immediately and that all the "absurd" terrorism charges she is facing are dropped.
Pending that, the activist must be allowed to be represented by a lawyer of her choice, it said.
Chanysheva, the former head of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's office in the city of Ufa, in the Bashkortostan region, was arrested more than two months ago as part of a criminal case against Navalny and his associates.
She has since been remanded in pretrial detention. If convicted, she could face up to 10 years in prison.
On January 17, which marked the first anniversary of Navalny's arrest, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell deplored the persecution of members of Navalny's network, and urged Russia to immediately and unconditionally release Chanysheva.
In late November, Chanysheva was transferred from Ufa to Moscow, nearly 1,500 kilometers away from her hometown.
Since December 10, officers of the Investigative Committee and the Federal Penitentiary Service have barred, under "false pretext," four lawyers from representing and visiting Chanysheva in detention, according to Amnesty International.
The accusations against Chanysheva stem from her peaceful civic and political activities as a regional coordinator of "Navalny's headquarters," which have been falsely considered "extremist," the group said.
Chanysheva "is just another victim" of the Russian authorities' crackdown on Navalny's associates and supporters, according to Amnesty, which said her prosecution was "unfounded" and violated her rights to freedom of expression and association.
In June 2021, a Moscow court banned as "extremist" civil-society organizations linked to Navalny, and the authorities announced in September a new criminal investigation against the vocal Kremlin critic and his associates on charges of "establishment of an extremist association."
This probe was joined with four other criminal cases against Navalny as well as his colleagues and supporters. Chanysheva is the first Navalny associate who has been arrested under this case.
Navalny was detained in a Moscow airport a year ago upon his arrival from Berlin, where he had been recovering after being poisoned in Siberia in August 2020.
A Moscow court later ruled that, while in Germany, he had violated the terms of parole imposed from a 2014 embezzlement case that is widely considered as being politically motivated.
Navalny's 3 1/2-year suspended sentence from the case was converted to a jail term, though the court said he will serve 2 1/2 years in prison given time he had been held in detention.