Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 163

Russian Television yesterday showed film of a public execution held in the center of Djohar-gala. (NTV, ORT, September 3) Several thousand onlookers watched as a young man and woman were shot dead. They had been found guilty of murder by one of Chechnya’s new Shariat courts. On orders of President Aslan Maskhadov, the bodies were put on display after execution with signs bearing their names, clans, and crimes. Muslim law requires the bodies of the dead to be buried before sundown on the day of their death, but Maskhadov ordered an exception in this case. Chechen officials said more sentences will be carried out within the next few days.

These were not the first public executions carried out in Chechnya since the reinstatement of Islamic law. In April, in the village of Bachi-Yurt, a Shariat court sentenced a murderer to death by having his throat cut. The sentence was carried out in the presence of his relatives and the execution was broadcast on Chechen TV. For less serious crimes the Chechen criminal code, which is based on Shariat law, calls for caning (now the most common punishment in Chechnya) or amputation of a hand or foot. No amputations have been carried out in Chechnya yet, because medical conditions in the republic are not considered adequate (for example, the sterility of instruments cannot be guaranteed).

Chechen first deputy prime minister Movladi Udugov told the Monitor earlier this year: "The introduction of Shariat courts is the only effective way to restrain crime in postwar Chechnya, where there are about 100,000 well-armed unemployed men. The psychology of the Chechen is such that he does not fear a secular court. The decision of a Shariat court, on the other hand, is sacred; in this case, the shame for the crime committed extends to the criminal’s entire clan. This is also a powerful deterrent. Moreover, the custom of blood revenge exists in Chechnya. If a criminal were condemned to death by a secular court, his relatives would take revenge on the judges and those who carried out the sentence. But if he is condemned by a Shariat court, blood revenge does not apply. Russia should understand that the operation of Shariat courts on Chechen territory benefits her as well."

Public executions in Chechnya put Russia in a difficult position, however. From a legal point of view, executions are taking place on part of the territory of a state which undertook to abandon the use of the death penalty when it joined the Council of Europe. At the same time, Moscow is powerless to influence what happens in Chechnya. Ultimately, Shariat courts could force the Kremlin to recognize the independence of Chechnya, if only as a means of distancing Moscow from what is going on within the republic.

Herzog Winds Up Visit to Moscow.