"My parents found a grenade next to their apartment. Our dog was poisoned. There was a criminal case against my deputy. It was something like a cold shower that time, and it made me very angry – we were just lawyers, doing our jobs – and I channelled my anger into fighting police abuse even harder."
Pavel Chikov is a Russian lawyer, human rights activist, public figure, head of Agora International Human Rights Group, and member of the Presidential Council on Civil Society Development and Human Rights (from 2012 to October 2019). He graduated from the Law Department of Kazan State University with a degree in International Law (2000) and has a Master's degree in Public Administration from the University of North Dakota (USA, 2001). He has PHD in law from the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Tatarstan. In 2001, Pavel Chikov was the initiator and first head of the Kazan Human Rights Center in Tatarstan. In 2003-2005, he was the head of the legal department of the Public Verdict Foundation, one of the Russian NGOs in the field of legal protection of human rights. In April 2005, he founded the Interregional Association of Human Rights Organizations "AGORA" which, in 2015, was transformed into the Agora International Human Rights Group. For many years he has worked as a columnist for highly respected Russian media: Forbes.ru, RBC, Vedomosti, Republic, Novaya Gazeta. In 2014, Pavel Chikov and the Agora International Human Rights Group were awarded the prestigious international prize for services in the fight for human rights – the Prize in memory of Professor Torolph Rafto.
Pavel Chikov is perhaps Russia’s most well-known human rights lawyer, and in this fascinating interview, he looks back at the lessons he has learned about legal advocacy in a repressive political environment. These range from exposing police abuse – including rape – in his native Kazan, to defending high-profile clients like the feminist punk group Pussy Riot and the Russian “Mark Zuckerberg.” In this last case, Pavel successfully used the courts to buy time for the social media platform Telegram, so that it could improve its encryption and evade Russian censorship laws. Particularly given the lack of political space and an independent judiciary, Pavel understands the power of mobilizing “the court of public opinion”. He describes how his organisation often makes public calls for victims of human rights abuse to come forward – most recently around unnecessary Covid-19 deaths: “This is a form of mass mobilization” now that conventional “political mobilization is less possible in Russia.” Of course there are personal risks, he writes, but this is offset “by taking pleasure in every success you achieve, in your professionalism. Especially if it’s a political case, where there’s an activist found not guilty and an investigation terminated, or released from custody. You think, ‘Sometimes I can win even in such a shitty environment.’”