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Russia May Abolish Death Penalty

February 15, 1999

MOSCOW (AP) _ Russia plans to formally abolish the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment, Russia’s justice minister said today.

Russia promised to abolish the death penalty when it joined the Council of Europe in 1996. Later that year it placed a moratorium on carrying out death sentences, but did not take capital punishment off the books.

Courts have continued to sentence people to death, even though nobody has been executed since August 1996, the government says.

Earlier this month, Russia’s Constitutional Court imposed a second moratorium, banning courts from handing down death sentences until a jury system is adopted throughout Russia _ a process that could take years.

Human rights activists in Russia and abroad said the court’s decision effectively abolished the death penalty, but urged Russia to go one step further and permanently ban capital punishment.

Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov said today that amendments to the criminal code to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment will be ready by March.

Under Russia’s promise to the Council of Europe, the deadline for abolishing the death penalty is Feb. 28, Krasheninnikov said. He did not explain the reason for the delay.

To become law, the bills must be approved by the Russian parliament and signed by President Boris Yeltsin. Parliament’s lower house is dominated by Communists and other hard-liners who oppose the ban on death penalty and may try to block the bills.

Polls show that most ordinary Russians also support capital punishment, which they see as a deterrent to crime.

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