New Law in Russia Ends Jury Trials for ‘Crimes Against State’
January 2nd, 2009
Via: Los Angeles Times:
President Dmitry Medvedev signs the controversial measure with little publicity. A pending Putin-backed law widens the definition of treason. Government critics fear the stage is set for a crackdown.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev paused in the last, quiet hours of a dying year to sign into law a controversial bill that eliminates jury trials for “crimes against the state,” a move 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 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.
A parallel piece of legislation, pushed by Prime Minister Vladimir 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 rounded up by police — and, because of the law signed Wednesday, tried without a jury.
Human rights groups and lawyers have warned that the changes to Russia’s criminal code, largely undiscussed in the state media, would allow the government to crack down on any whispers of dissent. 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 intelligence agency rather than police jurisdiction. Some critics point to the days of dictator Josef Stalin as a comparable legal structure.
“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.”
The purpose, many observers agree, is not only to give the government greater tools in cracking down, but also to send out tremors of fear.