[JURIST] Russia's Constitutional Court [official website, in Russian] on Monday upheld [judgment text, in Russian] the practice of trying terrorism cases in the absence of juries. Several Russian citizens had challenged the constitutionality of certain provisions of the country's Criminal Procedure Code, which provided that criminal cases involving crimes under articles 205 (terrorist act), 278 (violent seizure of power or forcible retention of power) and 279 (armed rebellion) are not considered with the participation of a jury, but rather by three judges. The petitioners argued that this practice violates the right to trial by jury, which is envisaged in Russia's Constitution [text, in Russian]. They also cited Article 55 of the Constitution, under which the country is barred from passing laws that abrogate or derogate from human rights. The Constitutional Court disagreed, finding that the constitution only guarantees jury trials in cases where the defendants could be sentenced to death. In other situations, the court said the right to trial by jury is defined by federal legislation. The court emphasized the impartiality and professionalism of the judges in Russia tasked with trying terrorism cases, noting that this would ensure fair trials for terrorism suspects.
Russia has been tightening its anti-terrorism and other national security legislation recent years, leading to concerns that some of the reforms infringe on human rights. The provision banning jury trials for terrorism suspects was approved [JURIST report] by Russian Dmitry President Medvedev [official website] at the beginning of 2009. Also last year, a spokesperson for Medvedev announced [JURIST report] that his administration would modify a legislative proposal that would change the definition of treason, state secrets, and espionage. Last month, Medvedev proposed amending the country's terrorism legislation in the wake of twin suicide bombing attacks [Moscow Times report] on Moscow subway stations. Literature including Mein Kampf and 34 religious books [JURIST reprots] related to the Jehovah's Witnesses have been banned recently under the country's extremism laws.