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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Division Rages Over Crime Decree

The Public Prosecutor's Office and the Federal Counterintelligence Service on Thursday welcomed the extra powers granted to law-enforcement bodies by President Boris Yeltsin's decree to fight organized crime, but agreed there was a risk of the powers being abused. "The question is whether the state can bring the mafia to its knees -- or vice versa," Interfax quoted Alexei Ilyushenko, acting public prosecutor, as saying. "I am all for the violation of human rights if the victim is a bandit and a criminal," said Sergei Stepashin, director of the Federal Counterintelligence Service. "Crime has already penetrated the centers of power and is taking them over, extending its control over property, the economy, the market and politics." The June 14 decree granted police sweeping powers to detain suspects for up to 30 days and examine the financial affairs of anyone suspected of organized crime. The new measures also give police the right to search offices and homes without a court order. Ilyushenko said the crime rate had doubled in Russia in five years. During the first five months of this year, a total of 1,094,000 crimes were recorded. Nearly half of these were serious, including 30,000 murders, 67,000 severe physical injuries, and more than 200,000 robberies and thefts, he said. He said the extra powers given to the law-and-order organs made it possible to set up "a solid shield against the wild outburst of crime." But he recognized the alarm about possible extremes in implementing the decree and confirmed that "there are a lot of violations of legislation by the law-and-order organs, as well as arbitrary actions." The human rights group Memorial issued a statement June 16 sharply criticizing the decree. It said the president had decided "to sacrifice the principles of law and democracy." Sergei Kovalev, a deputy for the State Duma and a well-known dissident, speaking at the same session, said it was impossible to fight organized crime by violating human rights. "There are human rights and if you are for the violation of the rights of a criminal, it means you are for the violation of human rights," said Kovalev. Members of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of parliament, meeting Thursday to discuss the decree, appeared divided in their reactions. The session came a day after the lower chamber, the State Duma, demanded that Yeltsin repeal the measure. Many council deputies criticized it for breaching the constitution and ignoring civil rights, but some still wanted the council to support Yeltsin. "This decree includes contradictions of the constitution, and of several norms of the criminal code," said Issa Kostoyev, chairman of the council's legal committee. "All the same, I'm fully convinced ... that it's simply impossible to live in this society right now." Kostoyev proposed the council support the law but order Ilyushenko to ensure civil rights be upheld. His proposal drew an angry response from deputy Pavel Shtein, who asked: "Can any prosecutor who carries out a clearly unconstitutional decree uphold the constitution?" Meanwhile in the lower house, speaker Ivan Rybkin rebuked deputies Thursday for failing to turn up to vote on important issues, after staying up late to watch World Cup soccer matches live, AP reported. But AP also reported that, according to the newspaper Vechernyaya Moskva, the World Cup has had a positive effect: Crime has gone down. Sander Thoenes also contributed to this report.