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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Amends Law on Death Penalty

A new amendment to the Russian criminal code will help Moscow keep its pledge to the Council of Europe to drop the death penalty, Itar-Tass quoted a senior official as saying Monday.

President Boris Yeltsin on Sunday signed an amendment which stipulates that a presidential pardons commission and the Kremlin chief himself should review all capital punishment cases, even if the prisoner has not appealed.

Itar Tass quoted Anatoly Pristavkin, a writer and human rights activist who heads the commission, as saying every fourth or fifth person condemned to death row did not appeal their sentence, some in a state of shock, some in protest.

"Now the president and the commission are keeping the situation under control, all Russia's international obligations are being fulfilled," Pristavkin said.

The Council of Europe called on Russia in 1996 to scrap the death penalty or face suspension from the European continent's largest grouping.

Russia had agreed to abolish capital punishment as one of the conditions for its entry into the organization. Yeltsin has suspended executions until a corresponding law is approved by Russia's parliament.

Officials say Russia has not executed anybody since May 1996, but hundreds of people are now on death row.

Full abolition of capital punishment -- carried out by a single shot to the back of the head -- is still far off.

A February deadline initially set by the Council of Europe is unlikely to be met, Vladimir Ryzhkov, first deputy speaker of the State Duma lower house of parliament, was quoted as saying by Itar Tass.

The opposition-dominated lower chamber threw out a draft law at the start of last year and the issue is not on the agenda in the first half of this year.

"The majority of deputies decided last year that Russia was not ready for such decisive acts. It is clear that the mood in the Duma has not changed since then, so it makes no sense discussing it now," Ryzhkov said.

But he added the Duma generally backed the moratorium imposed by Yeltsin and expected the compromise to continue in the future.