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RUSSIA: Lawyer Mikhail Benyash sentenced for a publication on social networks.

21 January 2021

 Mikhail Benyash was arrested and convicted for publishing on social networks.

Mikhail Benyash is a lawyer based in Krasnodar in southern Russia. He has been working on civil and criminal cases for 10 years. He provides legal assistance to those participating in rallies that have not been officially approved. He has also participated in several demonstrations to monitor and prevent police brutality.

On Sunday 21 January 2021, Mikhail Benyash issued an appeal to his colleagues to provide legal assistance to the demonstrators during the forthcoming demonstrations. Based on this message, a court ruled that he had organised an “unauthorised demonstration”.

The police searched his flat. They claimed that the search was related to a case of replica firearms allegedly involving his landlord.  In reality, the purpose of the search was to raid his flat, confiscate his computer and other equipment, and interfere with his work in assisting detained demonstrators. Mikhail Benyash was taken to the police station, briefly interrogated, and then arrested for his publication on social networks.

A local judge sentenced him to five days’ detention, stating that his appeal for legal aid amounted to organising a demonstration. The judge rejected Benyash’s efforts to organize a defence.

Human rights lawyers in Russia regularly face interference in the performance of their duties. These repeated violations of fundamental rights jeopardise the exercise of the legal profession.

The IOLD is deeply concerned about the situation of lawyers in Russia who are constantly persecuted in the exercise of their functions.

The IOLD would like to remind the Russian authorities that Russia has ratified and signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights recognising the right to peaceful assembly:

“The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

The IOLD would also like to remind the Russian authorities that under the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (1990):

« Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; » (Principle 16)

« Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions. » (Principle 18)

« Lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly.» (Principle 23)