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19 Nov, 2009 01:00

Dead end of death penalty moratorium‎?

Constitutional court is to decide on the immediate future of the death penalty moratorium in Russia.

While capital punishment has not been abolished officially, it has been suspended till every court in Russia joins the jury system.

With a ruling imminent, the future of the death penalty has become a topic of much debate.

The man known as the chessboard killer was on a murderous rampage, terrorizing Moscow for years. The reasoning behind his acts are as callous as the crimes themselves, as each murdered person was to represent the 64 squares on a chessboard.

Investigators say Aleksandr Pichushkin killed at least 48 people, but the convicted killer claims dozens more. Pichushkin is serving a life sentence now, but heinous acts like the ones he committed continue to fuel public and political support for Russia’s death penalty.

“Some say that the state cannot kill a person. But, I tell you: if this person committed 30 or 40 murders, can you call them human?” claims Vice-Chairman of the Committee on the Constitutional Legislation Viktor Ilukhin. “They lost their right to humanity.”

The nation has not put a person to death since 1996, that’s when the constitutional court put a moratorium on executions. The high court ruled that the death penalty could not be imposed until all Russian territories introduce jury trials.

The time for the moratorium is running out as Russia’s Chechen republic to be the last to institute trials by jury in January.

Death penalty opponents hope the high court will abolish the punishment.

“30% of all prisoners serving their term today are not really guilty,” states Lawyer Igor Trunov, Chairman of Moscow Central Lawyers Collegiate. “Therefore, there is a high risk that an innocent person would be killed. And there is no way to reverse it: no one has been brought back to life here.”

Trunov and other opponents believe death sentences do little to deter crime and do little to separate the state from the criminals it is trying to punish.

Human Rights Commissioner in Russia Vladimir Lukin believes that “If we are not barbarians, we will not have the death penalty.”

Still, proponents argue that death is not only appropriate in rendering punishment but also in providing justice.

“Everybody who says there is no need for capital punishment should think about how they would feel if they lost a loved one,” says Lubov Sliska, First Vice Speaker of the State Duma. “When an older person, child, or teenager is cruelly murdered…And they just get a prison term for that. They just serve their term, and we all pay with our taxes.”

More than 60% of Russians support the death penalty, with the nation’s biggest opponent as its president. Dmitry Medvedev has said that the death is a medieval form of punishment and he is hoping that lawmakers will bring this practice to a definite end.