Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Rule of law but not jury in Russia

Russia ends jury trials for some crimes

"Russian President Dmitry Medvedev paused in the last quiet hours of a dying year to sign a controversial law that eliminates jury trials for 'crimes against the state,' a measure that lawyers and human-rights groups fear will be the start of a dangerous exertion of Kremlin control over government critics.

"The law does away with jury trials for a range of offenses, leaving people accused of treason, revolt, sabotage, espionage, or terrorism at the mercy of three judges rather than a panel of peers...

"A parallel piece of legislation, pushed by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin and still awaiting discussion in parliament, seeks to expand the legal definition of treason to such a degree that observers fear that anybody who criticizes the government could be arrested and, because of the law signed Wednesday, tried without a jury...

"The changes also seek a stronger hand for the FSB, the modern incarnation of the Soviet KGB, by giving the state wider latitude in cases that fall under the intelligence agency rather than police jurisdiction. Some critics point to the days of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin as a comparable legal structure...

"Medvedev's last-minute signing had all the trademarks of a pre-holiday news dump engineered to generate the least possible media coverage. New Year's Eve is the biggest holiday of the year in Russia, and even those watching the news were distracted by the failing negotiations over shipments of Russian gas to Ukraine. The law was announced by a single sentence on Russia's Interfax news agency..."

See also: Rule of law in Russia

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