Damage Compensation May Become Obligatory for Parole
In September the State Duma might adopt amendments to the criminal code that would grant parole only if the guilty party pays damages in an amount stipulated by a court. The business community says this contradicts the process of humanizing criminal legislation, a program initiated during Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency.
The State Duma Committee on Civil Legislation recommends adopting the amendments in a first reading scheduled for September 26. According to the amendments, people applying for parole (Article 79), a reduction in the unserved part of their sentence (Article 80) or a suspended sentence (Article 73) must compensate the victim for damages in an amount determined by a court (partially or in full). The official explanation involves a concern for victims’ rights, but the committee has pointed out that convicts with no assets will be unable to pay damage compensation while in prison. Only 215,000 of the 639,000 prisoners in Russia have a job and the average monthly pay is only 3,600 rubles ($115).
Business associations Delovaya Rossiya and Business Solidarity have forwarded complaints to Rafael Mardanshin, a member of the committee from the United Russia party. They note that the proposed amendments use the term “inflicted harm” instead of “inflicted damages” as in the Criminal Code, which could “lead to arbitrary interpretations of the law.” It is also unclear what guidelines a judge would use to interpret the term “full or partial” damage compensation. According to the business associations, the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court have pointed to the unconstitutionality of denying parole for failure to compensate damages. The draft law also contradicts the process of humanizing criminal legislation initiated during Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency, and may increase the crime rate in prisons and corruption in parole courts.
Mardanshin said that the goal of the bill is to protect victims’ rights, which is good, but at the same time it “infringes on the rights of prisoners.” Yana Yakovleva from Business Solidarity said: “The draft law is clearly directed at businesspeople, because murderers typically have no money.” She noted the arbitrary calculation of damages, which could reach 30 million rubles (over $955,000) in the case of contract murders. It is impossible to earn this much while in prison.
The State Duma also discussed amending Article 159 on fraud, which is currently used to confiscate businesses or put pressure on businesspeople, Mardanshin said. In April, the Supreme Court suggested specifying the types of fraud (loan, computer and payment card fraud), but this will not help protect businesses, said Yevgeny Salygin, head of the law department at the Higher School of Economics. Mardanshin has proposed specifying the term “fraud” instead. The Russian Association of Young Businesspeople and Delovaya Rossiya suggest a different term, “business fraud,” where cases against businesspeople are opened only at the request of the victim. Mardanshin said the deputies do not plan to add alternative amendments to the law but have promised to correct the existing draft before the second reading.
European Parliament Critical of Russian Justice
The European Parliament has passed a resolution criticizing Russia’s judicial system in connection with recent high-profile cases from Khodorkovsky to Pussy Riot, cases which they claim are politically motivated.
Six parties in the European Parliament came up with their own resolutions, while the seventh, with the smallest membership, Europe of Freedom and Democracy, abstained. The resulting consensus highlights the recent deterioration of the human rights situation in Russia, which is reflected in the politically motivated trials of former Yukos owners Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, cases filed against opposition leaders Alexei Navalny, Boris Nemtsov and Serghei Udaltsov, the lack of progress in the investigation of the murders of Anna Politkovskaya, Natalya Estemirova, Stanislav Markelov and Sergei Magnitsky, and the harsh sentence handed down to Other Russia activist, Taisiya Osipova, based on “dubious and possibly fabricated” evidence.
The Pussy Riot case, which probably caused the greatest repercussions, is characterized as a deliberate, politically motivated intimidation of opposition activists. One of the authors of the resolution, Kristiina Ojuland from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats told Kommersant that hundreds of thousands of people around the world have expressed their support for the three young women.
The resolution also criticizes lawmaking activity in Russia. It says Russia adopts laws that contain ambiguous provisions which can be used to further restrict opposition activities and civil rights. The current State Duma campaign to strip Gennady Gudkov of his mandate is nothing less than the intimidation of an opposition party which supported recent protest rallies.
“I did not expect any international response, not with this being an internal matter of the Russian parliament,” Gudkov said. “However, the European Parliament seems to be more concerned than the Russian President.” Most lawyers agree that several recent decisions are in flagrant violation of the constitution; but, the guarantor of that constitution says nothing which implies agreement with recent decisions, he added.
Yet, Strasbourg activists seem confident that they can pressure Russia to change the situation. Ojuland said they sometimes see change, such as the registration of the RPR-Parnas opposition party or the reduction of the eligibility barrier for the Russian parliament.
“The European Parliament is like a parasite trying to latch onto Russia’s own protest movements which actually only express the will of some population groups,” said Alexei Pushkov, head of the lower house committee on foreign affairs. “The laws that liberalized Russia’s political system were the result of the government’s conviction that it needed to be more democratic.” He believes that the Strasbourg resolution’s authors are acting on the baseless assumption that they can keep pressuring Moscow and then agree to develop relations with it in reward for good behavior.
Ojuland said that their activity will not stop here, as Strasbourg also plans to consider sanctions against the Russian officials on the so-called Magnitsky list.
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