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The Runaway Jury

The Kremlin's garbage bin is already pretty loaded up with discarded fashions from the 1990s. Real political parties. Gubernatorial elections. Independent broadcast media. Freedom of assembly.

Are jury trials about to be tossed on the ash heap as well?

The State Duma has passed the first reading of a bill that would eliminate the right to a trial by jury for a series of crimes, including: terrorism, hostage-taking, mass disturbances, rebellion, espionage, diversion, organizing unlawful armed formations, treason, and attempts to seize power by force.

"Kommersant" quoted Vladimir Vasilev, chairman of the Duma's Security Committee, as calling the move an attempt to protect jurors from potential harm. "The terrorists know who the jurors and their families are," he said. "Jurors experience pressure from terrorists."

Elena Mizulina of the pro-Kremlin A Just Russia faction, however, sees other motives at work:

"This bill is not about countering terrorism. It's about restricting government by the people, and supporting corruption within the law enforcement and justice systems.... The leaders of any opposition party or labor union that decides to organize a rally or demonstration may now
find themselves charged with organizing mass disturbances if anyone so much as breaks a shop window."

The bill appeared just weeks after a juror at the trial of three men accused if involvement in the assassination of journalist Anna Politkovskaya embarrassed the authorities in a pretty big way. As Robert Colason noted here, Yevgeny Kolesov heard on Ekho Moskvy that the presiding judge in the case said jurors had requested that the trial be closed to the public because they feared for their lives.

Kolesov called the radio station and told them -- live on the air -- that he and his fellow jurors had made no such request. In fact, 19 of 20 jurors refused to sign a statement asking for the trial to be closed.

Oops. That wasn't part of the script!

Writing about the incident, the British weekly "The Economist" opined:

"It was neither the court's attempt to ban the media nor the lie about the jurors' wishes that really stunned ordinary Russians. It was that a Moscow roofer had bothered to stand up and object. 'Novaya Gazeta,' the newspaper for which Ms Politkovskaya worked, said that Mr Kolesov had revealed a different society from 'shapeless, inert, embittered and voluntarily obedient people,' which until recently was hidden from sight. That a simple act of decency has become so heroic speaks volumes about the present state of Russia."

And it is such simple acts of decency, rebellion, and citizenship that the authorities would apparently like to squash.

-- Brian Whitmore

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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