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Russian Lawyer Who Defended Detainees Fined For 'Attack' On Police

Michail Benyash appears in court during his trial in Krasnodar.
Michail Benyash appears in court during his trial in Krasnodar.

A Russian lawyer and human rights activist has been found guilty of attacking police and fined 30,000 rubles ($468) by a Krasnodar court in connection with his detention while he was trying to provide legal advice to protesters being taken into police custody at an anti-government rally a year ago.

Mikhail Benyash had faced up to five years in prison, and investigators were reportedly seeking a larger fine.

International rights group Amnesty International has called the charges against Benyash "politically motivated."

He has spent the past decade working on civil and criminal cases and "has been providing legal assistance to the participants of rallies which were not officially approved," according to Frontline Defenders, a Dublin-based group that seeks to protect "at-risk" human rights defenders.

Benyash was arrested on September 9, 2018, in Krasnodar, where he went to provide legal assistance to participants in an unsanctioned protest during a wave of public rallies against Russian pension reform.

He was initially ordered to spend two weeks in jail in September 2018 for allegedly disobeying police.

Later, he was charged with "using violence against a government official," leading to this latest conviction.

In April, Benyash was ordered to pay around 50,000 rubles in compensation for his time in custody.

Some of more than a dozen fellow lawyers who testified in Benyash's defense linked his case to a perceived escalation of violence by security forces over the past several years in Russia.

The car of a lawyer representing Benyash's defense team's lone witness -- who testified to have seen police mistreatment of Benyash -- was set on fire outside her home in Krasnodar in November 2018.

Frontline Defenders said it believed the arson attack was a reprisal for Lyudmila Aleskandrova's work in cases like Benyash's, involving police abuses.

Investigators claimed Benyash attacked and bit officers in a police vehicle after his detention.

Benyash said it was the other way around, and images shared after he was taken into custody showed multiple abrasions and bruising on his face and arms.

Police said Benyash had inflicted the injuries to himself by slamming his head into the vehicle's windows and trying to escape.

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