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    Russia prolongs moratorium on death penalty, contemplates ban

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    Russia's Constitutional Court prolonged on Thursday a moratorium on the death penalty, which was due to expire on January 1, until it is banned completely.

    Russia's Constitutional Court prolonged on Thursday a moratorium on the death penalty, which was due to expire on January 1, until it is banned completely.

    Russia imposed the moratorium after it joined the Council of Europe in 1996 and signed the European Convention on Human Rights, but it has not ratified the document yet.

    "This decision is final and shall not be appealed," court chairman Valery Zorkin said reading out the ruling.

    Zorkin said the moratorium on executions will be in place until Russian parliament ratifies Protocol 6 to the European Convention banning the death penalty.

    He said an "irreversible process to abolish capital punishment" is going on in Russia, which is in line with its international commitments and global tendencies.

    The speaker of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, said on Thursday the convention is unlikely to be ratified this year. "A decision to ratify Protocol 6 in December is unrealistic," Boris Gryzlov said.

    Gryzlov earlier cited strong public support for the resumption of executions behind the failure of the parliament to ratify the convention.

    Observers have explained the public's opposition to abolishing the death penalty by high crime rates and people's dissatisfaction with police performance. Reflecting public sentiment, nationalist politicians even called for extending capital punishment to more crimes like drug-related abuses.

    Speaking to reporters earlier on Thursday, Deputy Justice Minister Yury Kalinin said the moratorium must be extended and executions abolished eventually, citing numerous judicial errors in the country and its obligations to the Council of Europe.

    The head of a leading rights group welcomed the news.

    "I welcome the Constitutional Court's decision as I agree that the restoration of the death penalty in Russia is impossible," said Lyudmila Alexeyeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group.

    "It would have contradicted our Constitution, our international obligations and all trends of the 21st century. All European countries have abolished capital punishment, and Russia must not remain among the savages," she said.

    The court held hearings on whether to restore capital punishment as it was to expire in January, and the last Russian region, Chechnya, is to introduce juries as an alternative to panels of judges, removing the formal obstacle to reinstating the death penalty by firing squad.

    The Constitutional Court's 1999 ruling declared that the death penalty could not be applied until trial by jury had been introduced in all Russian regions.

    MOSCOW, November 19 (RIA Novosti)

     

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