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Tuesday, February 2, 1999 Published at 20:55 GMT


World: Europe

Russia suspends death penalty

Capital cases 'must be tried by a jury'

Russia's Constitutional Court has ordered judges to stop imposing death sentences until new laws guarantee trial by jury for all capital cases.


[ image: President Yeltsin has promised to outlaw executions]
President Yeltsin has promised to outlaw executions
"Starting today, we effectively have no death penalty," said Constitutional Court Spokeswoman Anna Malysheva.

"The government doesn't even have money to maintain the court, and the jury system is an expensive luxury. It will be put off for many years to come, I think," she said.

Constitutional Court judge Olga Khokhryakova said the courts had no right to impose the death penalty, unless Russian citizens facing execution could be tried by a jury and not just a judge.

Law reform


[ image: Russia's penal system is underfunded and overcrowded]
Russia's penal system is underfunded and overcrowded
The Russian constitution says trials of crimes that carry the death penalty should be heard by juries, but only nine out of Russia's 89 regions have such a system.

A parliamentary law is required to enforce the guarantee of trial by jury. Until then, no judge will be allowed to pass a death sentence.

BBC Moscow Correspondent Robert Parsons says the constitutional court's move is effectively intended to give parliament a nudge.

In 1996, President Boris Yeltsin imposed a moratorium on executions as part of Russian efforts to join the Council of Europe. He also promised to abolish the death penalty by the end of February 1999.

Against public opinion

Although there have been no executions since 1996, judges have continued to sentence convicts to death. More than 850 prison inmates languish on death row.

Russia's Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov said at the end of last year that the government was determined to honour its pledge, but any moves to end the death penalty outright will go against the overwhelming majority of public opinion.

Most Russians and members of parliament believe that capital punishment is the only way to combat the country's soaring crime rate.

"We have a crime situation in which people are afraid to go out after 7pm," Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov told Moscow's Echo Radio on Tuesday.

"There are ways of fighting with criminality, but the authorities have not used them," he said.



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