ATTORNEY AT LAW
STATEN ISLAND TEEN'S ORDEAL ILLUSTRATES PERILS OF TRAVEL TO RUSSIA (9-10-19)
I’ve always been interested in public international law, an area of practice that deals with the legal relationships between the world’s sovereign states. While a student at Fordham Law School, I took every available elective in both that subject and comparative law, the latter devoted to the differences among the internal legal systems of the major nations with which American companies do business . I was seriously considering a career in the foreign or diplomatic service at the time and, to that end, authored a comparative analysis of consular immunity in France, Argentina and the United States.
While the lure of the American courtroom eventually won me over, my interest in international Law persists to this day. Which is why I regularly monitor the U.S. Department of State’s travel advisories on all of the nations of the world, large and small. On the ferry last week, for instance, while a bevy of late Summer tourists were lining up to take photos of the Statue of Liberty, I was busy on my i-Phone catching up with developments in Dominica. Approximately twice the length and twice the width of Staten Island, the sparsely populated West Indies nation is the most stunningly beautiful country I’ve ever visited.
Against this background, I was hardly surprised to read last week that a Staten Island teen has been in custody in Russia after she was found in possession of less than an ounce of marijuana at Pulkovo Airport in St. Petersburg. Audrey Elizabeth Lorber, reportedly a film major at Pace University, had purchased the drug lawfully in the United States pursuant to an approved medical program. Although she presented documentation to that effect to Russian authorities, they summarily rejected it as inapplicable in their country. As a consequence, the teen now faces a potential three-year prison term. Neighbors told the Advance that they hadn’t seen either the girl or her mother in over a month.
As with all foreign countries, Americans visiting Russia are bound by its laws and are subject to the prescribed punishments for violating them. Under Russian law, police can stop, question and detain an individual without reasonable cause. Moreover, Russian authorities are notorious for harassing American visitors, including students on organized educational excursions, religious groups, and professionals traveling with their respective organizations.
Russia also routinely violates its obligation under international law to inform the U.S. Embassy of the arrest of American citizens. Nor do Russian police investigate crimes against Americans with the same diligence they exhibit when the victims are Russian. All of these points are underscored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs.
Several years ago, an attorney friend invited me to travel to Moscow with a group of American lawyers for a seminar on Russian law. However, commitments at home made it impossible for me to go. That turned out to be fortuitous because what had promised to be a unique educational experience for the lawyers became, instead, a real-life nightmare. And it started immediately. After their plane landed, it sat on the runway for a solid eight hours with no heat. The lawyers were offered no water, food or explanation. And when they finally arrived at their hotel, they were pointedly advised that their rooms were likely bugged with electronic monitoring devices. This was consistent with the fact that U.S. citizens are not accorded any expectation of privacy in Russia. My friend said that from that very first day, all he and his fellow lawyers wanted to do was return home.
The U.S. Department of State also warns that Russian authorities have detained American citizens for engaging in religious activities which, they assert, is not permitted under a tourist or humanitarian visa. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is also pervasive in Russia, with U.S citizens facing jail terms for providing minors with “the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations”.
A detailed travel advisory issued by the U.S. Department of State on April 9, 2019,urges Americans to “exercise increased caution” when traveling to Russia due to “harassment and the arbitrary enforcement of local laws”. While it’s interesting reading, some would-be travelers to that country may prefer an abbrievated version. If so, they need only remember Audrey Elizabeth Lorber, a teen who innocently brought a small amount of medically-prescribed marijuana into Russia, carried documentation to that effect with her, was nonetheless seized by Russian police, and hasn’t been heard from since.
(A new column appears here every Tuesday. Comments relating to the column are welcome and should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org)
Daniel Leddy's law column has been published by the Staten Island Advance for over 25 years, appearing every Tuesday on the editorial page. His most recent column appears below. An archive of his columns can be found here