/ January 5, 2009

Russia Eliminates Jury Trials for "Crimes Against The State"

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed into law a controversial bill that eliminates jury trials for “crimes against the state.” The law eliminates jury trials for a variety of offenses, leaving people accused of treason, revolt, sabotage, espionage or terrorism at the mercy of three judges rather than a panel of peers. 

Critics say the law is dangerous because judges in Russia are vulnerable to manipulation and intimidation by the government. Human rights groups and lawyers have warned that the changes to Russia’s criminal code would allow the government to crack down on any whispers of dissent.”It’s a preparation for terror, although not the grand terror of the 1930s,” said Andrei Illarionov, a fellow at Washington’s Cato Institute and a former economic advisor to Putin.”They are much smarter now. They are preparing some kind of selective terror against those who are courageous enough to speak up.”

Human rights and civil society groups have banded together to speak out against the move toward a broader definition of treason, which will be debated in a parliament dominated by Putin’s United Russia party.

The government has framed the jury law as an anti-terrorism measure, but legal experts say its implications are broader and more ominous — especially if the treason changes go through.

Svetlana Gannushkina, a human rights lawyer and chairwoman of Russia’s Civic Assistance committee, gave the example of a man from the Dagestan region who is represented by her organization. A jury found him not guilty of sabotage more than a year ago, and Russia’s Supreme Court backed the verdict, rejecting an appeal by prosecutors. The man was cleared — until a few weeks ago.

Source: LA Times 

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