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Court Upholds Ban on Jury Trials for Terror Suspects

The Constitutional Court on Monday upheld a ban on jury trials for terrorism suspects, backing a 2008 Kremlin initiative aimed at curbing the frequent acquittals granted by juries in terrorism cases.

The decision, published on the court's web site, said defendants only needed to be granted the right to a jury trial in cases involving capital punishment, but since there is a moratorium in Russia on the death penalty, federal lawmakers had the right to decide which crimes should not be considered by juries.

In 2008, the State Duma approved the Kremlin-backed law barring suspects charged with terrorism, the violent takeover of power or armed mutiny from being tried by jury. The initiative was prompted by a string of jury acquittals of terrorism suspects in Ingushetia and Dagestan.

Defendants have routinely claimed before juries that they were tortured by investigators to make them testify against themselves. In some cases, freed suspects were later killed by law enforcement officers as they attacked local officials and government buildings.

The Constitutional Court issued Monday's ruling in response to an appeal by five men accused of participating in an armed mutiny in Kabardino-Balkaria's capital, Nalchik, in October 2005. The appeal said the republic's Supreme Court, which has been considering the men's case since October 2007, has consistently denied their requests for a jury trial and argued that a jury would better protect their rights from judicial errors than the three judges assigned to their case.

In 2005, about 200 Islamist rebels attacked several offices of law enforcement agencies in Nalchik, and the ensuing fight killed 35 officials, 13 civilians and 92 attackers. Fifty-eight men are on trial in the case.

The Constitutional Court said in its ruling that jury members would face threats in trials for suspected terrorists, biasing their verdicts and compromising the fairness of the trials.

In December, President Dmitry Medvedev signed a law that returned juries to terrorism trials considered by military district courts. For a case to be considered by a military district court, the law requires the prosecutor general or one of his deputies to ask the judge of the court initially assigned the case to move it there.

Last year, Medvedev called for further reduction in the number of crimes that can be tried by juries, mainly crimes committed by criminal groups.

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