Russian Lawyer for Alexei Navalny Held by Police After Sharing Legal Information With Journalists

A Russian lawyer leading jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny's defense case was detained in his hotel room by police, who conducted a search after he was accused of sharing classified legal information with the media about a separate case, the Associated Press reported.

On Friday, Ivan Pavlov, who is defending a former Russian journalist accused of treason, told the press that he was charged with a criminal offense punishable by a fine, community service or detention for three months. This came after authorities searched his hotel room and held him there this morning, followed by a summons for interrogation by Russia's Investigative Committee .

"The investigators maintain that I committed a crime when I told you, reporters, that your colleague is being unlawfully held in Lefortovo [a pretrial detention center] on absurd accusations," Pavlov said about his client, Ivan Safronov, who has been detained since July.

He asserted the accusations against Safronov are a backlash for his work in journalism, where he wrote about security and military issues. Safronov has been accused of sharing Russian military secrets with Czech intelligence.

Pavlov was ordered to attend a Moscow court hearing on pretrial restrictions later on Friday. Russian authorities want to ban Pavlov's online activity and prevent him from communicating with witnesses in his own case, according to the Associated Press.

He maintained that during the hotel raid, police unlawfully seized multiple documents related to Safronov's case.

The Russian government has been increasing its pressure on opposition supporters, independent journalists and human rights activists.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Russian Lawyer Ivan Pavlov
Russian lawyer Ivan Pavlov speaks to journalists in Moscow on April 30. Authorities have launched a criminal probe of Pavlov, who is representing a former Russian journalist accused of treason and is also the lead lawyer defending Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo

Pavlov's colleague, Yevgeny Smirnov, had reported that the lawyer was detained. But Pavlov's spokesperson, Yelizaveta Alexandrova-Zorina, later clarified to the AP that Pavlov wasn't formally arrested even though he was detained in his hotel room during the search.

Raids targeting Pavlov and his team elicited outrage in the Russian legal and human rights community, with prominent lawyers and legal aid groups calling on authorities to stop "using the law as a tool of pressure on lawyers."

Safronov wrote about military and security issues for a decade before becoming an adviser to Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin. Many journalists questioned the charges against him, and his former newspaper openly rejected them as "absurd."

Safronov's former colleagues alleged that authorities may have sought revenge for his reporting that exposed Russian military incidents and opaque arms trade deals.

Pavlov had been due to appear in a Moscow court on Friday at a hearing about extending Safronov's pretrial detention. The lawyer said police unlawfully seized "almost the entire dossier" of documents related to the case during the hotel room raid, including those subject to attorney-client privilege.

According to his colleague Smirnov, Pavlov frequently received threats from investigators at Russia's Security Service, or FSB, with an investigator involved in the case against the former journalist allegedly saying to the lawyer, "We're going to do everything to put you behind bars."

Pavlov maintained his innocence and said he considered the case against him "revenge" for his work on cases investigated by the FSB.

Smirnov told the AP that persecution of Pavlov sends a signal to all lawyers: "Don't even think about working effectively on criminal cases. Don't even think about speaking out. Don't even think about defending people—your role as a lawyer should be like that of furniture...present at legal proceedings."

In August, Russian media reported that the FSB had lodged a complaint against Pavlov over his refusal to sign a nondisclosure statement in Safronov's case. Pavlov said at the time that he had signed a statement not to disclose state secrets in connection to the case, but no one had asked him to sign a broader non-disclosure statement.

The case against Pavlov was opened shortly after he started representing the Foundation for Fighting Corruption, founded by Navalny, President Vladimir Putin's longtime foe.

This month, the Moscow prosecutor's office petitioned the Moscow City Court to outlaw Navalny's foundation and his network of regional offices as extremist groups. The move is part of a sweeping crackdown on Navalny, his allies and his political infrastructure.

Navalny is serving time in a penal colony outside Moscow. He was arrested in January upon his return from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin. Russian officials have rejected the accusations.

Russian Police
Russian policemen guard decorations for a World War II victory anniversary parade in Moscow's Red Square on April 28. Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images