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Public Statement: Russia (December 2018)

The Law Society of Ontario expresses grave concern about the assault, arrest and charges against lawyer Mikhail Benyash

Toronto, ON — The Law Society of Ontario expresses grave concern about the assault, arrest and charges against lawyer Mikhail Benyash.
 
Mikhail Benyash is a defence lawyer who has been providing legal assistance to participants of peaceful protests that were not officially approved by the government. Mikhail Benyash has also visited a number of protests to monitor and prevent police brutality.
 
On September 9, 2018, Mikhail Benyash was arrested at a protest against pension reform while providing legal assistance to protesters in Krasnodar.  Mikhail Benyash was detained by police for allegedly violating the rules for the organization of public protests, but according to information received, the police officers who arrested Mikhail Benyash did not reveal their identity nor did they explain why he was being arrested.
 
Mikhail Benyash and his client, Irina Barkhatova, was were reported walking down the street when two men in plain clothes jumped out of an unmarked car. It is reported that the police took Mikhail Benyash’s phone from his hands as he attempted to record the encounter. It is also reported that police hit him repeatedly and violently choked him as they forced him into the police car and again at the police station, which resulted in multiple injuries and bruises on his head. Officers reportedly hit Mikhail Benyash’s head against the car seat before they handcuffed him, and at the police station, officers pushed him out of the car and he fell face down on the asphalt. Mikhail Benyash was reportedly dragged into the police station and held incommunicado for approximately eight hours. Inside the police station, reports indicate that an officer hit Mikhail Benyash several times and pushed him, and as a result of being pushed, he hit his head against a metal safe. Mikhail Benyash was diagnosed with bilateral otitis and/or bilateral pneumonia following the assault.
 
Mikhail Benyash was found guilty of “resisting the police’s legitimate orders,” under Article 19.3 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offenses, and the Leninsky court of Krasnodar city sentenced him to 14 days of “administrative detention” and 40 hours of mandatory work. On September 28, 2018, the same court prolonged Mikhail Benyash’s detention to two months, in relation to criminal charges that were brought against him for obstruction of justice in a previous matter where he was representing a client, and for violence against a representative of the authority following his September 9 arrest. According to information received, there is no information about any violence against the police in the administrative arrest report.
 
Reports indicate that Mikhail Benyash lost his appeal of his sentence flowing his administrative charges on October 10, 2018, but on October 23, 2018, the Krasnodar Regional Court overturned the two-month detention order and ordered his release. Reports further indicate that multiple criminal charges are still pending against Mikhail Benyash.
 
The Law Society is troubled by Mikhail Benyash’s situation and urges Your Excellency to comply with Russia’s obligations under international human rights laws, including the United Nations’ Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
 
Article 16 of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers states:
 
Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (b) are able to travel and to consult with their clients freely both within their own country and abroad; and (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economics or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.
 
Article 17 states:
 
Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.
 
Article 18 states:
 
Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients' causes as a result of discharging their functions.
 
Article 23 states:
 
Lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. In particular, they shall have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights and to join or form local, national or international organizations and attend their meetings, without suffering professional restrictions by reason of their lawful action or their membership in a lawful organization.
 
Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
 
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
 
Article 9 states:
 
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
 
The Law Society urges the Government of Russia to:

  1. immediately and unconditionally withdraw all charges against Mikhail Benyash;

  2. immediately conduct a fair, impartial and independent investigation into the assault against Mikhail Benyash in order to identify all those responsible, bring them to trial and apply to them civil, penal and/or administrative sanctions provided by law;

  3. put an end to all acts of harassment against Mikhail Benyash and all other human rights lawyers and defenders in Russia;

  4. ensure that all lawyers in Russia can carry out their professional duties and activities without fear of reprisals, physical violence or other human rights violations; and

  5. ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments.