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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Council Concerned Over Execution Pace

The Council of Europe expressed concern Friday at allegations that Russia has stepped up the rate of criminal executions since joining the organization two months ago and a spokeswoman said the charges, if substantiated, could lead to a reassessment of Russia's membership status.

Russia was accepted to the Council of Europe on Jan. 26 under the stipulation that it eliminate the death penalty from its legal code within three years, and the council requested that Russia cease executing prisoners immediately.

But President Boris Yeltsin, who has made toughness on crime into a campaign issue, announced Tuesday that he felt Russia was "not ready" to part with the death penalty.

A member of the President's Executive Clemency Committee said that "the moratorium has not been established" and that "the machine sending people to their death continues to work feverishly."

In a letter published in Izvestia on Friday, Lev Razgon, a member of the committee since its inception in 1991, said that the number of criminals executed rose sharply in 1995, while appeals for pardons were being rejected at a record rate. In February 1996 alone, he said, 30 pardons were rejected, compared to 19 in the whole of 1994.

"Russia does not want to part with its bitter reputation as a country of firing squads," Razgon wrote.

Christiana Dennemeyer, a spokeswoman for the Council of Europe's parliamentary committee, expressed surprise and dismay at news of the reports and said that, if the charges could be verified, Russia's status may have to be reassessed.

"Russia's status is the same as with any other of our members," she said. "If they don't respect their commitments, then they may be faced with expulsion."

But according to another council spokesman, Adam Ffoulkes-Roberts, punishment of member countries, even for widespread violations of human rights as in Turkey, "is something that the council has not learned how to deal with very well." Despite a slew of petitions to condemn Turkey, no concrete disciplinary action has been taken.

Dennemeyer added that, while the council had granted Russia some leeway in the amount of time it needed to remove the death penalty from the criminal code, it expected the spirit of the agreement to be honored.

"Our position was that, while laws take time to change and we understand that, our request that executions stop as soon as possible was clear," she said.

While other informed observers in Russia confirmed that executions have been accelerated, they remained divided over whether the policy is directly related to Russia's new status as a Council of Europe member.

One source in the Presidential Commission, who asked not to be identified, said that he did not believe the trend was connected to council membership, noting that Yeltsin has not signed a single pardon since the murder of journalist Vladislav Listyev last March.

"I think the president's advisers simply wanted him to be tougher on crime as early as last year, and are making his decisions for him," the source said. "I doubt sometimes if Yeltsin even reads all of our recommendations."

But Viktor Kogan-Iasny, head of the Right to Life and Human Dignity Association, a leading Russian anti-death penalty activist group, said he believed the surge in executions is directly connected with the council decision.

"Executions have really sped up in recent months, and what it is is an attempt by the president to show that internal policy will not be dictated by outsiders," he said. "He means to show the world that only internal motivations will be considered."

Spokesmen for the State Directorate for the Implementation of Punishment, or GUIN, said they had no official comment on either Razgon's report or the Council of Europe.

Dennemeyer said that there was no timetable on a decision by the council regarding Russia's status.

"First and foremost, what we need to do is to determine whether executions are actually continuing," she said. "Once we do, we'll go from there."