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Russia lower house approves bill to cut jury trials in terrorism and treason cases

[JURIST] The Russian Duma [official website, in Russian] Friday approved by 355-85 a bill that would end jury trials on charges of terrorism and treason [JURIST report]. Ostensibly directed against lenient juries [Moscow Times report], the bill is excepted to be quickly approved in the Federation Council [official website], the upper house of the Russian parliament. The measure may have only limited effect given the relative rarity of jury trials in Russian criminal procedure already - in 2006 only about 700 of more than 1.2 million criminal trials [AP report] in Russia were tried by juries - but it has prompted criticism by opposition parties and rights groups and seems to cut against a recent proposal [transcript, in Russian] by Russian president Dmitry Medvedev [official profile; JURIST news archive] to make Russian courts more transparent [JURIST report].

The bill follows a general Russian trend towards increased government power. In July 2007, then-President Vladimir Putin approved tough amendments to Russia's law against extremism [JURIST report]. An international panel of jurists reported earlier that year that expanded Russian anti-terrorism laws were leading to human rights abuses [JURIST report]. In 2006, Putin signed a bill [JURIST report] giving Russian police and military broad authority to tap telephone conversations and control electronic communications in the vicinity of counter-terror operations, shoot down hijacked planes threatening public places or strategic facilities, and deal with the aftermath of terrorist attacks.

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