Russia seeks to humanize criminal code

Russian MPs have given preliminary approval to reforms that seek to liberalize the country’s criminal code. The draft law would see libel and smuggling downgraded to administrative offences.

­Prison terms for some crimes would be replaced with community service. No violent crimes have been included in the proposed changes.

This was just the first step on the way to implementing this law by 2013. Even though preliminary approval was given today, there was plenty of discussion and concern among the Russian MPs.

The reform is designed to humanize the criminal code. Certain offences that currently carry a custodial sentence will be changed to non-custodial sentence and replaced with punishments like community service and house arrest.

The crimes that have been put forward in this draft include smuggling – as long as what is being smuggled into the country is not illegal under Russian law. Smugglers would be punished in a similar way as if they had simply not paid import duty on the goods smuggled.

Insulting a judge or court official, insulting a police officer, slander and even software piracy will be downgraded from criminal offences to misdemeanors resulting in lesser punishments.

There was opposition from the Communist Party, who said that using community service as a punishment might be tricky in Russia, because of the harsh weather conditions in winter. There was talk of putting people to work as laborers on building sites. However, it was felt that problems were likely to arise when temperatures plummeted to around minus 30 degrees, making work impossible.

There were also some voices of discord from the Liberal Democratic Party. They said that to lessen the criminalization of slander is a dangerous thing to do. In their eyes a slander campaign leads to character assassination and that is a serious problem.

Software piracy was also up for discussion. Russia has had a problem in the past with software piracy. It was a major stumbling block when it came to Russia’s bid to join the World Trade Organization. The changes to the law mean punishments handed out for software piracy would be more lenient. Some voices in the Duma said that this would go against all the good work Russia has done so far to battle software piracy.

The changes were proposed by President Medvedev himself to try and bring the Russian penal system in line with those of other countries. Russian prisons are full and many offences in Russia carry very stiff custodial sentences, which is another of the reasons for this new draft law.

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