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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Death Penalty Draws Primakov's Support

Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov has threatened to send violent criminals to death and "physically eliminate" murderers, calling into question Russia's promise to abolish the death penalty and stunning international organizations that have been working to ensure human rights in Russia.

President Boris Yeltsin imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in 1996 soon after Russia joined the Council of Europe, and membership in the council requires Russia to abolish capital punishment by next March. And although the department of corrections says there have been no executions since August 1996, the obligation to do away with the death penalty seems under fire.

In the light of the recent contract killing of prominent democratic leader and State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova, Primakov said the government should fight back against criminals, meeting violence with violence.

"The criminals, as the interior minster has rightly said, have thrown down a challenge," he said Saturday in televised remarks from the city of Belgorod. "We must accept the challenge. And I am saying straight out here that we may be talking about, should be talking about, the physical elimination of those who raise their hands against society, the people, the public, against children."

On Friday, Primakov presided over a Cabinet meeting at which approval was given to a package of bills aimed at fighting crime. The bills were backed by Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin.

Stepashin, who heads the country's police force, and Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov, whose ministry oversees the prison system, both have spoken in favor of keeping the death penalty.

"Amnesty International is appalled" by Primakov's declaration, said Mariana Katzarova, a specialist on Russia with the human rights organization. "He is putting at risk the already fragile de facto moratorium on the death penalty."

The trend toward the death penalty is especially dangerous because of the numerous examples of innocent people having been executed in Russia, she said.

Although Russia has signed international treaties and promised to abolish the death penalty, the State Duma, parliament's lower house, rejected imposing a moratorium on executions. The lives of 850 death-row prisoners hinge on the dwindling political will of Russia's ailing president. "We are perplexed," said Jack Hanning, the spokesman for the Council of Europe, the continent's main human rights watchdog. "We strongly hope that Russia will continue to respect the commitments it entered into during its admission to the Council of Europe."

Stepashin also has argued for liberalizing regulations on use of guns by police during arrests.

The Amnesty International spokeswoman said this was worrying because of the frequent practice of Russian police to extract confessions under torture and psychological pressure.

"It is opening the door for law enforcement to actually use arms and shoot or kill suspects," Katzarova said. "We are very worried about such a trend, given the practice of torture and ill-treatment in the Russian Federation - particularly the torture and ill-treatment of suspects in police custody."