Arrest of lawyer Mikhail Benyash
25 October 2018

Arrest of lawyer Mikhail Benyash

Russian Federation

On 9 September 2018, lawyer Mikhail Benyash was arrested after going to the city of Krasnodar to provide legal assistance to participants in a peaceful rally against pension reforms. The court ordered his release on bail on 23 October. The criminal charges against him are still pending and he faces up to five years in prison if found guilty. Lawyers for Lawyers called on the Russian authorities to drop all charges against Mikhail Benyash.

Mikhail Benyash is a defence lawyer who has been working on civil and criminal cases for the last ten years. He has been providing legal assistance to the participants of rallies which were not officially approved and attended protests to monitor and prevent police brutality. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly has been increasingly restricted in Russia in recent years.

It was reported that Mikhail Benyash was violently arrested on 9 September. During his arrest he as allegedly been beaten and chocked by police officers, who initially did not introduce themselves and were wearing civilian clothes. After he was brought to the police station his lawyer was denied access to him for several hours. On the morning of 11 September, Mikhail Benyash was brought before the Leninsky court of Krasnodar city which found him guilty of “resisting the police’s legitimate orders” (under Article 19.3 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offenses) and sentenced him to 14 days of “administrative detention”. Mikhail Benyash was serving his sentence in a Special Detention Centre for persons held under administrative arrest.

On 23 September, the day of his release, Benyash was arrested again. He was charged with two further offences: violence against a representative of authority (Criminal Code Article 318(1)) based on an allegation, seemingly not raised at the time of his earlier charge and conviction in relation to the same incident, that in the course of his arrest on 9 September he allegedly bit a police officer and hit another. Furthermore, he was also charged with obstruction of justice (Criminal Code Article 294(1)), reportedly on the basis of an allegation that in a court hearing on 6 May 2018, Benyash had “repeatedly interrupted, gave instructions and objections to the decisions of the judge” and after he had been removed from the courtroom “continued unlawful behaviour”.

On 23 October the Krasnodar Regional Court overturned his two month pre-trial detention order and ordered his release on bail, set at 600 000 rubles (approximately 8000 EUR).

Lawyers for Lawyers fears that these acts of harassment against Mikhail Benyash serve to curb his legitimate activities as an attorney. We have called for his immediate release and continue to call upon the authorities to drop the charges against Mikhail Benyash and investigate the allegations of ill-treatment.

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