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Russians argue about death penalty again

February 11, 2013, 14:55 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev stated that as a Russian citizen, but not the minister he does not see anything wrong in the death penalty in case of heinous crimes. The public response followed immediately. The human rights activists claimed that taking into account the condition of Russian courts and the law enforcement system innocent people can be executed. The bloggers as well as the whole Russian society divided in two camps – the supporters and opponents of capital punishment.

In comments on the brutal murders of the little girls in Tatarstan and the Irkutsk Region the minister said in an interview with the NTV television network on Sunday that he does not oppose capital punishment for some types of crimes. “I am afraid to bring down anger on myself from the opponents of the death penalty. However, as an ordinary citizen, but not the minister, I would not see anything wrong in it (capital punishment – Itar-Tass) for such criminals,” Kolokoltsev said. “But I believe that for such brutal beasts the death penalty is a normal response of the society to the crime,” the minister added.

Kolokoltsev added that the positions over capital punishment vary in different countries. “Europe has one approach, America has another approach,” the minister stated.

Kolokoltsev voiced his opinion on the death penalty over the fact that an anchorman of the TV program put up for debates high-profile assassinations of two schoolgirls, who were killed in Naberezhnye Chelny and in the city Shelekhov in the Irkutsk Region at the beginning of the year. The rapes and murders of two girls, one of whom was killed by an Uzbek national, stirred up a real blast of fury in the country. Several spontaneous protest actions were held. The demonstrators did not conceal that they are seeking after death of the criminals.

The problem of a comeback to capital punishment has been discussed since the moratorium was imposed on capital punishment. Capital punishment as the supreme penalty is not applied in Russia since 1996. From 1999 to 2010 the capital punishment moratorium was in effect in the country. After the moratorium expired capital punishment was banned by the verdict, which the Russian Constitutional Court passed.

The attitude of the society to capital punishment is contradictory, but people are more inclined towards the extreme penalty, taking into account the crime situation in the country. The sociological survey, which the Levada Centre conducted in August 2012, 24% of Russians consider capital punishment as morally acceptable, 33% of respondents have the opposite point of view, 19% of pollsters are convinced that everything depends from the circumstances of the crime.

In March 2012 the Public Opinion Fund found in a sociological survey that 62% of Russians call for a comeback to capital punishment, 21% of respondents support the capital punishment moratorium and only five percent of pollsters back the full cancellation of capital punishment.

“Capital punishment is senseless and counterproductive. The fact that capital punishment is senseless was proved in the multi-thousand year history of the humankind and the modern civilization. A tougher punishment up to the death penalty is not a panacea,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in 2007.

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill opposed capital punishment, but with some remarks. “With the current condition of our courts, if capital punishment is used, some people will be ‘killed’ under the law. This is a horrible danger,” he laid down his position in a televised interview in 2011.

Unless the judicial system can ensure a fair application of capital punishment, it is early to say about the comeback of such punishment as capital punishment, the Russian patriarch stated. In his view, in the future it will be possible to say about it “in some absolutely concrete cases, when the maniacs, massacres or terrorists” are considered, but still in case of absolutely clear evidence for an awful guilt of the criminal.

The refusal from capital punishment “resulted not from the Christian tradition, but a new liberal philosophical idea, which emerged in the Western European space,” he said.

The positions of the political parties were determined a long time ago. The Communist Party of Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia call for the cancellation of the capital punishment moratorium. A Just Russia traditionally came against the withdrawal from the capital punishment moratorium. The United Russia Party admitted several years ago the debates over this problem continue in the party. Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Constitutional Legislation Vladimir Pligin believes that “from the emotional point of view” the intentions to bring back capital punishment can be understood, but now “there is no sufficient mechanism to rule out a possible court mistake.” “The state authorities cannot apply this supreme penalty to an innocent person. The Russian Federation will certainly continue to observe the moratorium,” he said.

The comeback of capital punishment in Russia is impossible under the effective Constitution, Chairman of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council Mikhail Fedotov commented on Kolokoltsev’s statement in an interview with the Ekho Moskvy radio station last Sunday. “Legally this problem is already closed by the appropriate verdict of the Russian Constitutional Court, the verdicts of which have the supreme legal force and no one can cancel them,” Fedotov said.

Head of the Moscow Helsinki Group Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who is quoted by the Kommersant daily, noted that, “in the most approximate estimates of the state officials, who are linked with our penitentiary system, about one third of convicts are absolutely innocent people.” “If capital punishment is permitted in our country, how many absolutely innocent people will die?” Alexeyeva said.

“If we want to bring back capital punishment, we will have to walk out from the European Convention and the Council of Europe,” the newspaper quoted Merited Lawyer of Russia Tamara Morshchakova, who is the former judge of the Constitutional Court, as saying. “The consequences for the society can be even more horrible, as the state authorities can do short work with any person, who failed to prove his innocence, even if he did not actually commit the crime. Today our courts work as punitive bodies, frequently framing up some corpus delicti. It is even awful to imagine what will happen, if capital punishment is brought back in our country,” she underlined.

MOSCOW, February 11