Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 227

Pavel Krasheninnikov, chairman of the State Duma’s committee on legislation, said yesterday that the Duma is likely to vote next month on a bill drafted by his Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) that would abolish the death penalty in Russia. According to Krasheninnikov, the bill, which would replace the death penalty with life imprisonment, is a logical continuation of “humanitarian steps” that Russia has already taken toward liberalizing its criminal laws (Regions.ru, Radio Ekho Moskvy, December 10). In 1996, then President Boris Yeltsin declared a moratorium on the death penalty in order to meet the criteria for membership to the Council of Europe. Russia’s Constitutional Court subsequently ruled that the death penalty violated the provision of the country’s constitution giving any person charged with a capital crime the right to a jury trial. Jury trials are taking place in only nine of Russia’s eighty-nine regions. According to the new Criminal Procedural Code passed by the Duma last month, jury trials will be mandatory as of January 1, 2003 in all regional courts for cases involving “dangerous” crimes such as murder and rape (Gazeta.ru, December 10; Moscow Times, November 23).

Krasheninnikov’s comments yesterday were made during a Duma-sponsored conference on the issue of the death penalty timed to coincide with the United Nations’ Human Rights Day. As the conference showed, opponents of the death penalty are by no means a majority among either ordinary citizens or legislators. Indeed, Gennady Raikov, head of the pro-Kremlin People’s Deputy faction in the Duma, said that 85 percent of Russians favor rescinding the current moratorium on the death penalty and that they should not only be listened to, but that the death penalty should be extended to drug dealers. Raikov also called for “prophylactic work,” including restrictions on broadcasting scenes of violence and murder on television (ABNews.ru, December 10). Konstantin Kosachev, first deputy head of the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) faction in the Duma, called for extending the death penalty to those convicted of planning and perpetrating acts of terrorism (Gazeta.ru, December 10). Like Gennady Raikov, Tamara Morshchakova, deputy chairman of Russia’s Constitutional Court, said that an overwhelming majority of Russians favored the death penalty. This was motivated, she added, not by “vindictiveness” but by unhappiness over the state’s inability to fight crime (Regions.ru, December 10). A telephone survey conducted yesterday by Radio Ekho Moskvy found that 61 percent of the 2,569 listeners who called in said they favored applying the death penalty today. Thirty-nine percent said they oppose it (Radio Ekho Moskvy, December 10).

Those Duma deputies in favor of abolishing the death penalty argued that the politicians should not be guided by popular opinion. “There is no need to dramatize the situation with public opinion,” said State Duma deputy Aleksandr Fedulov. “It is necessary first to abolish the death penalty and then explain it to society. It has always been this way in Russia–first act, then explain” (Vremya Novostei, December 11). In a similar vein, Aleksandr Barannikov, deputy chairman of the Duma’s committee on legislation, said that while 80 percent of the public wanted to end the moratorium on executions, the Duma “should form public opinion, not be guided by it” (Gazeta.ru, December 10).

Meanwhile, the death penalty issue has come up in connection with a high-profile criminal case–that of Salman Raduev, the former Chechen rebel field commander on trial in Dagestan. Justice Minister Yury Chaika said yesterday that it would not be possible to sentence Raduev to death given the moratorium on the death penalty and the Constitutinal Court’s decision (Interfax, December 10). Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov, who is prosecuting the case against Raduev, will reportedly tomorrow call for a life sentence. Raduev has been charged with a host of crimes, including terrorism, murder with particular cruelty, kidnapping and hostage taking for his role in the January 1996 terrorist attack on a hospital in the Dagestani town of Kizlyar and the village of Pervomaisk, during which seventy-eight people died. Three other rebel commanders are on trial, including former Chechen vice premier Turpal-Ali Atgeriev, who is expected to receive a sentence of fifteen years in prison (Interfax, December 11; see also the Monitor, November 16, 30). Yesterday Gadzhi Makhachev, a State Duma deputy from Dagestan, called on the republic’s Supreme Court to sentence Raduev to death, adding that the execution should be carried out in the central square of Makhachkala, the Dagestani capital (Interfax, December 10).

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