State Duma backs delay in introducing jury trials in Chechnya

MOSCOW, November 15 (RIA Novosti) - The lower house of Russia's parliament adopted Wednesday on a first reading a draft law postponing the introduction of jury trials in Chechnya by three years.

It was initially planned that jury trials would be introduced in Chechnya January 1, 2007. But pro-presidential United Russia MPs submitted to the State Duma a bill postponing the date by three years, to 2010, apparently out of concern that the unstable situation in the republic would mean that jury trials would be biased.

A total of 349 deputies backed the draft law.

The moratorium on the death penalty will be in force in Russia until all constituent members of the Russian Federation introduce jury trials. Chechnya is the only Federation member without a jury trial system, so the moratorium could also be prolonged until 2010 if the draft law is adopted on all readings.

A source in the presidential administration said Tuesday the introduction of jury trials in Chechnya would be impractical for now for technical reasons, because self-government bodies, which would be responsible for compiling lists of potential jurors, have not yet been established in the republic.

In an exception, crimes committed by Russian military personnel in Chechnya could be heard by juries until an April 6 Constitutional Court ruling that serious crimes be tried without them.

The ruling came following an enquiry made by Chechen President Alu Alkhanov concerning the legality of several articles in the law on military courts that he said granted the military rights not enjoyed by ordinary citizens.

Alkhanov said previously that servicemen suspected of crimes in Chechnya had been tried before juries, while ordinary Chechen defendants would only have access to jury trials as of 2007.

He also said the jury in the so-called Ulman case did not include ethnic Chechens, which influenced the court's decision.

Captain Eduard Ulman and three co-defendants stand accused of attacking a jeep, killing six locals and burning a car during a reconnaissance mission in the North Caucasus republic in January 2002.

Captain Ulman, Lieutenant Alexander Kalagansky, Major Alexei Perelevsky, and Warrant Officer Vladimir Voyevodin were twice acquitted on charges of murder and abuse of office by the North Caucasus District Military Court in jury trials. However, Russia's Supreme Court overturned the rulings and returned the case to a local court for retrial.

The Supreme Court upheld an appeal filed by prosecutors and backed by lawyers acting for the victims, and ruled on June 7 that a professional non-jury court should hear the case.

The full-scale military offensive in Chechnya ended in 2000, when federal troops took control of the capital, Grozny. But militants continued their resistance in Chechnya for several years, and have also carried out bloody terrorist attacks and hostage-takings in other Russian regions.

Russian troops in the republic have also drawn international condemnation for human rights violations.

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