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Russian court to rule on death penalty moratorium

Published on 10/11/2009

Moscow — Russia’s Constitutional Court on Monday began discussions on whether Russian judges can hand out death sentences once a moratorium on capital punishment elapses in 2010.

The Saint Petersburg-based court — which is examining the case after a request by the supreme court — will have to make its decision by January 1, 2010 when the moratorium is due to come to an end.

After the morning session, the president of the court Valery Zorkin declared the hearing closed and said the timing of the court’s decision would be announced at a later date, the Interfax news agency reported.

The representative of President Dmitry Medvedev to the Constitutional Court, Mikhail Krotov, said the Kremlin was in favour of a "stage-by-stage ban" on the death penalty in Russia.

"Abolishing the death penalty is one of the aims of legal and judicial reform," Krotov told the court, Interfax reported.

The Russian lower house of parliament’s permanent representative to the Constitutional Court called for an extension of the moratorium.

"The political position of the leadership of the State Duma has been outlined in public speeches," Alexander Kharitonov told the court.

"For several years the position has been that the death penalty cannot be implemented in Russia," he added.

The Constitutional Court in 1999 ruled that the death penalty could not be used until people all over Russia had access to jury trials. Since then there have been no executions.

The Caucasus region of Chechnya will be the last Russian region to introduce jury trials from January 1, 2010, effectively bringing the current moratorium to an end.

Russia is obliged to abolish the death penalty as a member of the Council of Europe. It has signed the corresponding protocol of the European Human Rights Convention but the document has yet to be ratified by parliament.

The punishment remains in its legal code, and opinion polls support its reintroduction.