[JURIST] Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official website] on Thursday signed into law [press release, in Russian; RT report] amendments [text, in Russian] to the country's penal code ending jury trials for terrorism or treason suspects and giving prosecutors broader investigative authority on terrorism or treason related cases. The suspects will now be tried by a panel of three judges. Proponents of the changes say they will strengthen the government's ability to combat terrorism, and the amendments easily passed [JURIST report] both houses of the Russian parliament, the State Duma [official website, in Russian] and the Federation Council [official website], last month. Critics of the changes say they will decrease transparency [JURIST report] in the Russian judicial system, particularly if another law expanding the definition of treason [JURIST report] is passed. Opponents also say the combination of the two measures could allow the government to take unchecked action [LA Times report] against political dissenters.
Both measures follow what has been seen as 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.