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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Minister Asks Duma To End Death Penalty

In the face of calls for a crackdown on crime, Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov took the opposite tack Wednesday and submitted to parliament a bill that would ban capital punishment.

Krasheninnikov, who has promised capital punishment would be outlawed in Russia by April 1999, is sending the bill to a hostile State Duma that isn't likely to pass it. Even liberal deputies tend to favor capital punishment, and the speaker recently said he favored reviving forced labor.

But Russia has promised to ban the death penalty by Feb. 28, 1999, as a condition of joining the Council of Europe, a 40-nation human rights organization. Though the death penalty remains on the books, executions were stopped in 1996 by a moratorium imposed by President Boris Yeltsin.

"The government is trying to show the Council of Europe that we are moving beyond the moratorium," said Vladimir Pribylovsky, an expert on Duma politics at the Panorama research center.

But to produce more than a show of good will prove difficult.

The bill's path through the Duma - which includes scrutiny in the legislation and legal reform committee and three readings before the entire chamber - is likely to be arduous, a spokesman for the committee said Wednesday.

The Duma's Communists, who make up the largest single bloc, overwhelmingly support the death penalty. And Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov only two weeks ago said that violent criminals should be "physically eliminated."

His remarks, inspired by popular outrage at the contract-style killing of Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova in St. Petersburg, had put in doubt the government's intention to fulfill its Council of Europe obligations.

A few days later, the head of the presidential commission on human rights said even the moratorium was likely to be canceled, though Yeltsin said Monday he supports a ban.

The murder of Starovoitova was seen by many as confirmation that criminals must be reined in using harsh methods.

"No deputy will be praised later for voting to annul the death penalty amid a rise of crime in the country," Pribylovsky said.

Krasheninnikov's bill would replace the death penalty with 25-year and life prison sentences.

Krasheninnikov himself has waffled. Citing overwhelming public support for the death penalty, he said in May just after his appointment that the country was not "morally or criminologically ready" to repeal it once and for all.