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Russian Court Extends Moratorium On Death Penalty


Judges of the Constitutional Court at a hearing on the death penalty in St. Petersburg today.
ST. PETERSBURG (Reuters) -- Russia's Constitutional Court has extended a 13-year-old moratorium on the death penalty, just weeks before it was due to expire.

Russian society is divided between those who back complete abolition of the death penalty and those who believe it deters serious crime.

Capital punishment remains part of Russia's criminal code, but the country has observed a moratorium since 1996.

"A sustainable constitutional legal regime guaranteeing the rights of a person to not be subjected to the death penalty and aimed at the gradual abolition of capital punishment has formed in Russia," the Constitutional Court said in today's ruling.

For the death penalty to be abolished, the Duma, or lower house of parliament, must ratify it.

The last formal obstacle in bringing back capital punishment will be cleared at the beginning of next year.

On January 1, Russia's turbulent Chechnya region, on the country's Muslim-dominated southern fringe, will become the last region to replace traditional panels of judges in courts with juries, a requirement for the death penalty to return.

Surveys show that between 65 percent and 74 percent of Russians favor resuming executions, carried out before the moratorium by a pistol shot to the back of the head.

Russia committed itself to scrapping the death penalty in 1996, when it signed a protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, but it has never ratified the document, citing public opposition.