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Medvedev promises major reform of prison and justice systems

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2009-12-24

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev pledged to reform his country's Soviet-era prison and justice systems, after firing 20 top prison officials earlier this month over the death of high-profile jailed high-profile lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

AFP - President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday pledged to overhaul Russia's largely Soviet-inherited prison system following the sudden death in jail of a lawyer last month.
   
"Our system of the execution of punishment has not changed for decades," Medvedev said in a live end-of-year television interview.
   
"There is no order. We need to bring it about."
   
Earlier this month, he sacked around 20 top prison officials, including top prisons chiefs for Moscow and Saint Petersburg, in one of the largest shake-ups at the Federal Service for the Execution of Punishment, the successor to the Soviet-era Gulag prison system.
   
The mass firings came after the sudden death of high-profile lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in jail, where he had been held for over a year in pre-trial detention. His requests for medical treatment had been denied.
   
Officials have insisted the reshuffles had nothing to do with his death but were part of a sweeping reform as well as an internal probe that exposed "systemic violations" in medical treatment in prisons.
   
Magnitsky was held at the Bytyrskaya prison and later transferred to the Matrosskaya Tishina (Sailors Rest) where he died last month. Heads of both prisons have been fired.
   
Medvedev, speaking publicly about his decision to sack the top prison officials for the first time, did not mention Magnitsky by name but said:
   
"We have to understand that there is no need whatsoever to slam people into prison at the stage of preliminary investigation for some types of economic crimes, crimes related to tax activities."
   
"There's a need to conduct investigation in accordance with law, to seek to obtain quality evidence and not to extract it with other means," he said.
   
Magnitsky was arrested in November 2008 on charges of tax evasion amounting to 500 million rubles (17 million dollars) in a probe that also indicted in absentia the US founder of Hermitage investment fund, William Browder.
   
His death put the spotlight on the fate of thousands of other, less high-profile inmates across Russia's overcrowded and virus-plagued prisons.
   
Medvedev, who is a lawyer by training, also reiterated that the country's penitentiary legislation was unnecessarily brutal.
   
"An individual stole a 500-ruble (17-dollar) hat -- immediately he gets two years in jail. What for? What, he will come out a better person?"
   
Speaking for the first time in a live interview on Russia's state-controlled television since he assumed office in May 2008, Medvedev was quizzed on a range of themes, including opposition politicians like chess champion Garry Kasparov.
   
A Kremlin spokesman denied that the questions were selected by the presidential administration in an apparent effort to show that Medvedev was further breaking away from his predecessor Vladimir Putin's legacy.
   
Asked if he had heard of the so-called "Basmanny justice" -- a term derived from the name of the Moscow court where fallen tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky's case was initially heard -- Medvedev said unjust decisions were "evil."
   
"Such decisions and verdicts should be cancelled and if they are made under the influence of these or other circumstances -- be it money, political pressure or other factors -- the individuals who issue such verdicts and decisions should face responsibility," he said.
   
On Wednesday, the country's supreme court ruled that the order from Moscow's Basmanny district court from 2003 to arrest Khodorkovsky's business partner Platon Lebedev should be cancelled, the first time a Russian court found violations in the high-profile case.
   
Medvedev also said he would sign a decree Thursday to improve the work of police that has been rocked by scandals in the past months.

Date created : 2009-12-24

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