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Top Russian Judge Against Death Penalty Issue Hinging on Polls, Referendums Alone

Dec 2 (Interfax) - The Constitutional Court chairman on Wednesday defended a ruling by his court to extend Russia's current moratorium on the death penalty after its expiry on December 31 and argued it would be wrong to use opinion polls or referendum returns as the sole basis for deciding whether or not capital punishment should be banned.

"We have recognized that the death penalty is impermissible in Russia on the basis of Russia's international legal commitments," the chairman, Valery Zorkin, told a news conference in Moscow.

Extensive debates had preceded the ruling, Zorkin said.

"There were even appeals to the Constitutional Court from some of the (parliament) deputies that the death penalty must not be abolished - the people don't want that, so let's call a referendum," he said.

"It's a sensitive thing.

In France, (former president Francois) Mitterrand ratified the Sixth Protocol to the European Convention," Zorkin said in reference to Protocol No. 6 to the Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which prescribes abolishing the death penalty.

"He opted for such ratification when the majority of the French supported the death penalty," the chairman said.

"What are sociological polls? They are based on the principle of are you in favor of the death penalty or against it? Very abstractly. But let's put the question in a different way: Which of you would be in favor of your brother, spouse, son or daughter being sentenced to death if they had committed a crime? I think most of the answers would be quite different," Zorkin said.

"We must bear those things in mind as well and mustn't ignore them, but we must also remember that it cannot be the purpose of a law court to be liked by everyone. There are always two parties to judicial affairs - one of them likes a court decision, the other is against," he said.

The Constitutional Court issued its ruling to extend the death penalty moratorium in response to a query from Russia's Supreme Court.

In declaring the moratorium, Russia said the ban would remain in force until jury-based courts were introduced in all its regions.

Chechnya, today the only region not to have joined the jury system, will do so with effect from January.

The Supreme Court was asking whether that meant the death penalty might be put back into use.

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