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Public Chamber slams bill banning jury trials in terrorism, espionage cases

MOSCOW. Dec 17 (Interfax) - The Russian Public Chamber has negatively assessed a bill approved by the State Duma that bars juries from trying cases opened into crimes committed against the state and cases related to terrorism, extremism, high treason and espionage.

"The bill is non-constitutional. It leads to a decline in civic rights and freedoms. It cannot be supported," the Public Chamber said in its expert conclusion.

According to Vladislav Grib, one of the authors of the chamber's conclusion, experts' analysis of the proposed legislative amendments "clearly shows that the true goal of the bill is not to help boost the efficiency of measures to prevent terrorism and to step up the fight against it." "Rather, it is aimed at limiting the powers of juries and banning them from hearing cases opened into grave crimes directed against the country's authorities," he said. It is proved by a list of crimes that, according to the bill, should not be tried by jurors, other experts said.

"It is important to note that (this list) includes not only terrorist attacks, but also crimes that are beyond the boundaries of terrorism, including high treason and espionage," they said.

The bill is "motivated by the interests of security services seeking to get rid of the need to investigate criminal cases without legal violations and to prove the guilt of suspects as part of a real contest with defense teams before courts that involve representatives of the people and are able to hand down both guilty verdicts and acquittals," the chamber's experts said.

"Their aspiration to exclude jurors from hearings into criminal cases that involve a heightened threat of arbitrariness and in which the state is interested in securing a guilty verdict for the defendants cannot be supported by the Public Chamber," they said.

The experts' conclusion has been forwarded to Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov.

"The authors of the analysis ask the chairman of the Federation Council to heed the position of the Public Chamber during its debate on the bill," they said.

The government submitted draft Criminal Code amendments dealing with cases of high treason, espionage and state secret disclosure to the State Duma.

Last Friday, the State Duma passed a bill barring juries from hearing such cases in the third and final reading. Such cases will be heard by a panel of three judges.

The amendments to be introduced to the country's Criminal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure address serious and very serious crises related to terrorism, hostage taking operations, the establishment of illegal armed groups, espionage, high treason, coups, armed mutinies, acts of sabotage, and mass riots.