The campaign to abandon Russia’s moratorium on capital punishment–introduced in order to meet the criteria for Russia’s continued membership of the Council of Europe–is gathering momentum (see also the Monitor, June 14). The campaign is being carried out “from below,” with the most active role being played by regional politicians and candidates in gubernatorial and municipal elections. The electorate applauds their efforts. Like the population in many other countries, ordinary Russians tend to be significantly more hawkish on the issue of capital punishment than their leaders.
Last week, Yury Prisekin, a candidate for mayor of the Volga city of Samara, spoke in favor of the death penalty for drug dealers. He has started a campaign in the city to collect signatures on a petition calling for restitution, and intends to present it President Putin and the State Duma. According to activists gathering the signatures, many Samara residents, especially the young and the elderly, support Prisekin’s initiative (Samarskie Izvestia, June 22). A week earlier, a petition in support of the death penalty bearing one million signatures gathered in Nizhegorod Oblast was delivered to the State Duma. The oblast’s entire population is only 3.6 million. The signature drive was organized by State Duma Deputy Dmitry Savelev, who is a candidate for the post of oblast governor and who is calling for the Criminal Code to be amended to mandate the death sentence for drug dealing (Lenta.ru, June 13).
In March 1999, Omsk Governor Leonid Pozhelaev, citing the demands of his oblast’s inhabitants, urged the Federation Council to call a referendum on toughening criminal penalties for drug dealers, up to an including the death penalty. Some 443,000 people out of 500,000 polled in Omsk Oblast supported the idea (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, June 13). A similar picture exists in Volgograd and Yekaterinburg. Lawmakers in the city of Tolyatti have also sent President Putin a letter demanding the death penalty for drug dealing (NNS, June 13). The provincial press frequently publishes the comments of federal politicians on this theme. Recently, for example, the newspaper Vecherny Chelyabinsk published an interview with Gennady Raikov, chairman of the People’s Deputy group in the State Duma, who stated: “Our faction is for the death penalty. As soon as jury trials are introduced throughout the country [in 2002], the death penalty will be brought back for five types of serious crime”, including large-scale narcotics sales (Vecherny Chelyabinsk, June 22).
Raikov was referring to the ruling by Russia’s Constitutional Court that the death penalty should not be imposed in Russia as long as trial by jury was not available all over the country. In this way, Russia’s top judges were able to suspend use of capital punishment and meet Russia’s obligations to the Council of Europe without having to go through the difficult task of amending the Criminal Code or the even harder task of amending the Russian Constitution, which, like the Criminal Code, explicitly sanctions the death penalty. The evidence from the regions, however, shows that the death penalty remains popular among the Russian electorate. This was confirmed by an express poll taken earlier this month by Radio Ekho Moskvy, whose audience tends to be liberal. Of 1,595 people polled, 52 percent favored an end to the moratorium (Radio Ekho Moskvy, June 13).
MAJOR NATO EXERCISE SUCCESSFULLY HELD IN GEORGIA.