ROAR: Capital punishment will be abolished “against the will of majority”

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
The media and analysts expect President Dmitry Medvedev to put an end to the discussion about capital punishment in Russia.

Russia’s Constitutional Court has accepted the request of the Supreme Court to consider the issue of capital punishment at a public plenary session on November 9. The Constitutional Court stressed the urgency and extreme importance of the question of whether or not capital punishment will be introduced again on January 1, 2010.

The Constitutional Court has decided to consider the issue very quickly, Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily said, adding that the decision is unlikely to be announced on November 9. It may take some days or weeks to prepare the official document and publish it, the paper said.

The daily explains the judicial dilemma behind the Supreme Court’s request, stressing that judges might be able again to sentence criminals to death starting January 1 next year.

Currently, the Russian constitution stipulates that a jury court decide whether a criminal who faces capital punishment is guilty or not. “Ten years ago, the Constitutional Court declared a moratorium on capital punishment until the introduction of jury courts in the whole country,” the paper said.

Chechnya is the last region where there is still no jury court, but the republic is to introduce the institution on January 1. After that, there will be no formal obstacles for the use of the death penalty, the paper said. At the same time, there are European norms that Russia is obliged to observe.

Moscow signed the 6th protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights, which abandons the death penalty completely. Despite the fact that Russia is still to ratify this document, the country has not refused to observe it.

According to Part 2 of Article 20 of the Russian constitution, capital punishment should be applied until it is abandoned. That means that the constitution shows the temporary nature of the death penalty as an institution, many observers stress. But judges of district courts may have doubts if the death penalty is to be applied again after January 1.

The last time the death penalty was applied in Russia was in August 1996. The media quote the results of the most recent poll, conducted by the research center of SuperJob.ru web portal on October 30–November 2. It shows that some 56% of respondents consider capital punishment “acceptable.” One quarter of those surveyed said they oppose the use of the death penalty.

The Supreme Court’s request has already provoked public discussion. “It is a rare case when a seemingly judicial dilemma has left no one indifferent,” Rossiyskaya Gazeta said. The paper noted that Yury Danilov, a judge of the Constitutional Court, will report on the issue at the plenary session on November 9. It was Danilov who prepared the materials that became the basis for the decision of the Constitutional Court on February 2, 1999 to confirm the moratorium, the paper said.

The issue of capital punishment has divided society. Supporters of the death penalty believe it will help “make streets safer and will free taxpayers from the need to spend money on maniacs, pedophiles and terrorists,” the daily said.

Meanwhile, many experts say that capital punishment does not lead to the main goal – it does not “create a calm atmosphere and does not prevent crimes,” the paper added. Those who oppose the death penalty say that the safety of society is secured by the inevitability of the punishment, the daily noted.

The former chairman of the Constitutional Court, Vladimir Tumanov, believes that the Russian legislation has necessary grounds “to consider the prospect of the application of capital punishment unrealistic.”

“There is a decree by [then-President Boris] Yeltsin who declared [the initial] moratorium on the death penalty in 1996,” Tumanov told Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

“Lifting the moratorium may entail the expulsion of Russia from the Council of Europe,” he said. On the other hand, statistics show that “capital punishment does not influence the level of serious crime,” he added.

Gazeta.ru website, in its turn, is certain that “capital punishment has been sentenced to death.”

“The Kremlin will find a way to maintain the moratorium,” the website said, adding that President Dmitry Medvedev is likely to speak on the issue in his forthcoming address to the parliament.

“One of the ways is to delay introducing jury courts in Chechnya,” Gazeta.ru added. A source in the republic told the website that no preparation is being conducted in Chechnya to establish jury courts.

Pavel Krasheninnikov, the head of the State Duma’s legislation committee, believes the parliament should “simply ratify” the 6th protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, the ruling United Russia party has not yet developed a position on the issue, the website said. Another way may be amending the Criminal Code, Krasheninnikov added.

Anatoly Kucherena, a prominent lawyer and member of the Public Chamber, agrees that the ideal option would be to withdraw articles containing capital punishment from the Criminal Code. After the Constitutional Court’s decision, deputies of the State Duma should find the solution, he told Gazeta.ru.

The website, citing sources in the presidential administration, noted that the moratorium would not be lifted, and the head of state would stress this in his address to the parliament.

Novaya Gazeta daily also said that “leaks from the Kremlin show that the president, in his coming address to the Federal Assembly due in November, is likely to make ‘a European choice’.” He might declare the introduction of “a judicial moratorium this time, or will demand that the State Duma ratify the 6th protocol,” the paper said. However, it predicts that the possible solution may provoke new discussion in society.

There are supporters of death penalty among Russian politicians. Expert magazine quoted vice speaker of the State Duma Lyubov Sliska as saying: “We have grounds to hope that capital punishment as a means stipulated by the Criminal Code will be used again.”

At the same time, many other politicians are opposing capital punishment. The head of the Liberal Democratic Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, described it as “a dangerous thing,” Expert said.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, in his turn, does not believe in its effectiveness. The media quote him as saying that capital punishment is applied in the USA, China and several other countries.”

“Does this have any influence on the level of crime there?” Kadyrov asked.

A Duma deputy from the Fair Russia party, Tatyana Moskalkova, stressed that only a few US states use the death penalty. She believes that “empirical experience rather than emotions” should prevail while discussing this issue.

Lifting the moratorium would be “a wrong decision,” she told Rosbalt news agency. “We have just changed our attitudes and assumed the civilized way of solving problems, and to introduce the death penalty again would be illogical,” she said. “A life sentence as an alternative to capital punishment is more civilized and seems to be appropriate even for serious crimes,” she added.

The chairman of the Federation Council’s committee on foreign relations, Mikhail Margelov, described the request of the Supreme Court as “natural.”

“So far we are in limbo, because the present moratorium is valid until the introduction of jury court all over the country,” he was quoted by RBC.ru website as saying.

“The moment of truth” is coming, Margelov said. The question is “whether the institution of capital punishment, doubtful from the point of view of the influence on the criminal world, or a political will is to be exerted to replace a temporary ban by a complete abolition,” he said.

He added that Russia, in signing the 6th protocol, made a voluntary commitment 13 years ago while joining the Council of Europe. “Today Russia is the only member state of this organization that has not ratified this commitment, which is fundamental according to European criteria,” he said.

Margelov said that the majority of citizens believe that “banning the death penalty leads to an increase of serious crimes.” However, the experience of the most countries where capital punishment has not been used for many years “does not confirm this opinion,” he said.

“Everywhere the death penalty was abandoned against the will of the majority, and spontaneous will was opposed by the will of political elite and the authorities to a rational modernization,” he said.

Sergey Borisov, RT