Page last updated at 10:40 GMT, Thursday, 19 November 2009

Russia enshrines ban on death penalty

Russia's Constitutional Court
The court said the use of the death penalty was now impossible

Russia's ban on the death penalty will remain when a current legal suspension expires on 1 January, the country's Constitutional Court has ruled.

It said the use of the death penalty was now impossible because Russia had signed international deals banning it.

Russian announced the moratorium in 1996 when it joined the Council of Europe, although it retains capital punishment in its criminal code.

Opinion polls suggest that a majority of Russians back the death penalty.

One recent survey showed that two-thirds of Russians backed the measure.

It said that one in four was against it, mainly because of the possibility that judges would make mistakes.

Chechnya jury trials

The court's head Valery Zorkin said that the end of the moratorium "does not make it possible to apply the death penalty on Russian territory".

He cited a number of international accords signed by Moscow, which banned the use of the capital punishment.

Mr Zorkin also said Russia must extend the moratorium on executions until it ratified Protocol Six of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits the use of the death penalty in peaceful times.

Russia's pledge to sign the protocol was a key condition of its membership in the Council of Europe in 1996.

However, the country's parliament is yet to officially outlaw executions.

In 1999 the Constitutional Court ruled that the death penalty could not be used until jury trials had been introduced in all of Russia's 89 regions.

Thursday's ruling was its response to the country's Supreme Court request, which had sought to clarify the future of the moratorium because the first jury trials would take place in Chechnya on 1 January.

Chechnya is the only remaining part of the Russian Federation where trials by jury have never been held.

Last week, President Dmitry Medvedev's representative at the Constitutional Court, Mikhail Krotov, said that the Kremlin was in favour of the gradual abolition of the death penalty.

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