Russian Federation: criminal proceedings against lawyer raise concerns

by | Oct 3, 2018 | News

Today, the ICJ expressed concern at ongoing criminal proceedings against Mikhail Benyash, a lawyer practicing in Russia, who is charged with use of force against the police and impeding justice.

The lawyer has been detained until 23 November. The ICJ called on the responsible authorities to drop any criminal charge relating to his conduct of professional duties in the courtroom, and to ensure that the lawyer’s rights are protected and that allegations of his ill-treatment are fully investigated.

Benyash alleges that following his apprehension by the police on 9 September, the police beat him up in the car. According to the police report he inflicted the injuries on himself, contrary to demands of the police that he stop doing so.

He was charged with disobedience to the police, which according to the police report was due to “the fact that the police asked Benyash not to injure himself, but he continued self-beating”.  Benyash was convicted and sentenced to 14 days of imprisonment and 40 hours of correctional works.

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.

On 23 September 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”.

According to the lawyer, he was taken out of the courtroom by force due to his motions to allow certain members of the public to be present at the open hearing.

The ICJ is concerned that the criminal obstruction charge against Mikhail Benyash appears to relate at least in part to statements he made in court in the course of carrying out his professional duties of representation of his clients.

The fact that this charge was only laid following his recent arrest, some five months after the alleged incident occurred, also raises questions as to the motivation for bringing the charge forward now.

“Benyash is currently charged on account of his alleged attack on a police officer and obstruction of justice. While the first charge requires an impartial and independent inquiry, the second charge should be of concern to the entire lawyers’ community”, said Karinna Moskalenko, ICJ honorary member. “We fear that this may lead to lawyers in Russia being charged with obstruction of justice simply for actively expressing their position and objections in accordance with the procedure prescribed by law”, she added.

Furthermore, the ICJ emphasises that under international human rights law, states have obligations to investigate allegations of treatment that may amount to torture or inhuman or degrading in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as other international law norms binding on the Russian Federation.

The investigative authorities have duty to investigate allegations of ill-treatment of the lawyer by police following his arrest on 9 September promptly, effectively and impartially and any persons responsible should be brought to justice.

Read the ICJ’s full statement here: Russia-Statement on Benyash-News-Web Story-2018-ENG

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