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Will Russia Bring Back Death Penalty To Execute Terrorists?

A prison in St. Petersburg
A prison in St. Petersburg
Laura Keffer and Andrey Pertsev

MOSCOW — The last state execution carried out in Russia was on Aug. 2, 1996, as the young democracy led by then President Boris Yeltsin was imposing a moratorium on capital punishment.

But a recent bill submitted at the Duma national parliament proposes to bring the death penalty back in force, specifically for crimes of terrorism. Backers of the bill, leaders of the A Just Russia political party cite the ISIS" bombing in October of a Russian passenger jet over the Sinai that killed 224, as well as the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels.

Just Russia leader Sergey Mironov says that convicted terrorists "deserve the most severe punishment," dismissing any notion of rehabilitation for such criminals. "The punishment must certainly be adequate," Mironov said, "taking into account the degree of threat to society and serving as a warning to committing crimes of this category in the future."

The new bill would amend two existing articles in Russia's Criminal Code, article 205 (an act of terrorism) and article 205.1 (facilitating terrorist activity), to allow for capital punishment both for those carrying out attacks and others involved.

Just Russia Duma member Oleg Nilov tells Kommersant that the threat of terrorism in the world is a growing problem, and the death penalty could be a deterent. "Potential accomplices and organizers will be forced to think it through," he says.

Dmitri Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, noted that there is a longstanding moratorium in Russia on capital punishment. "The question of the death penalty is incredibly complex, and multiple discussions are currently taking place. At the end of the day, there is a moratorium, which we will continue to follow."

In effect since 1996, the moratorium is a provisional suspension of capital punishment, that has effectively halted any executions. The penal code, however, stipulates that it can be lifted in five defined exceptional circumstances for men, aged 18 to 65: murder under specific aggravating circumstances, encroachment on the life of an officer of a law enforcement agency, encroachment on the life of a statesman or public figure, encroachment on the life of a person administering justice or engaged in preliminary investigation, and genocide.

Article 20 of the Russian Constitution states: "Everyone has the right to life …until its abolition, death penalty may only be passed for the most serious crimes against human life."

[rebelmouse-image 27090131 alt="""" original_size="800x844" expand=1]

Mironov in 2010 — Photo: Wikipedia

Under the Soviet regime, there was an on-and-off relationship with official state executions. Capital punishment was alternately permitted and prohibited, and was last restored on May 12, 1950, expanding the list of capital crimes along with it. GARF archives show that in the following decades state executions became less frequent, and the majority of the sentences were successfully appealed to the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR.

A serial killer

One notable execution was that of Antonina Makarova. During World War II, the woman dubbed "Tony-Machinegun" ("Тонька-пулемётчица") conspired with the Nazis, and was held solely responsible for the executions of more than 1,500 Soviet partisans and their family members. Makarova was eventually caught by the KGB and sentenced to death in 1976, and executed two years later by firing squad.

In the early 1990s Russia's bid to gain entry into the Council of Europe, which advocates for intergovernamental human rights and requires all of its members to outright abolish the death penalty. In Moscow's case, a moratorium was accepted in 1996, though a final state execution took place shortly afterward of serial killer Sergey Golovkin, also known as "The Boa" ("Удав"), who'd tortured and murdered 11 boys between 1986 and 1992.

The new push for a resumption of the death penalty in Russia comes as a recent report from Amnesty International found the number of state executions across the world reached a 25-years high In 2015. Some 86% of the officially registered executions were carried out in just three countries: Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. The report also mentions of China, dubbing the country as "chief executioner" due to the presumably high number of executions, though the information remains classified.

Today, Russia stands as one of the three post-Soviet nations with an active moratorium, along with Kazakhstan and Tadjikistan. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have all abolished the death penalty outright, leaving Belarus as the only remaining post-Soviet country to actively practice capital punishment.

Aleksander Bastyrkin of the Investigative Committee of Russia, is a longtime advocate of enforcing capital punishment. "I personally speak in favor of the death penalty, first and foremost as a human," Bastyrkin tells Kommersant. "I am not afraid of criticism. Don't be a hypocrite — evil must be punished. You take the life of another, especially the life of a child, pay with your own."

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A Refuge From China's Rat Race: The Young People Flocking To Buddhist Monasteries

Unemployment, stress in the workplace, economic difficulties: more and more young Chinese graduates are flocking to monasteries to find "another school of life."

Photograph of a girl praying at a temple during Chinese Lunar New Year. She is burning incense.

Feb 20, 2015 - Huaibei, China - Chinese worshippers pray at a temple during the Lunar New Yeat

Frédéric Schaeffer

JIAXING — It's already dawn at Xianghai Temple when Lin, 26, goes to the Hall of 10,000 Buddhas for the 5:30 a.m. prayer.

Still half-asleep, the young woman joins the monks in chanting mantras and reciting sacred texts for an hour. Kneeling, she bows three times to Vairocana, also known as the Great Sun Buddha, who dominates the 42-meter-high hall representing the cosmos.

Before grabbing a vegetarian breakfast in the adjacent refectory, monks and devotees chant around the hall to the sound of drums and gongs.

"I resigned last October from the e-commerce company where I had been working for the past two years in Nanjing, and joined the temple in January, where I am now a volunteer in residence," explains the young woman, soberly dressed in black pants and a cream linen jacket.

Located in the city of Jiaxing, over a hundred kilometers from Shanghai, in eastern China, the Xianghai temple is home to some 20 permanent volunteers.

Unlike Lin, most of them only stay for a couple days or a few weeks. But for Lin, who spends most of her free time studying Buddhist texts in the temple library, the change in her life has been radical. "I used to do the same job every day, sometimes until very late at night, writing all kinds of reports for my boss. I was exhausted physically and mentally. I felt my life had no meaning," she says.

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