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Russia planning to ease domestic violence penalties

President Putin and the upper house of parliament are mulling a bill that would ease some penalties for domestic violence that has already passed the Duma. Women's rights campaigners fear it will encourage abuse.

The bill reduces the crime of battery of a relative to a civil offense instead of a criminal offense when the victim "has suffered no serious harm." It stems from a Supreme Court ruling to decriminalize battery that doesn't inflict bodily harm.

The Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, passed the bill in its second of three readings by 385 votes to two. To become law, the draft must go through a further reading and win approval from the upper house of parliament, largely a rubber-stamp body, and then be signed by President Vladimir Putin.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday it was important to distinguish between "family relations" and repeated instances of violence.

Members of Putin's United Russia party said the bill would protect parents' right to discipline their children and reduce the state's ability to interfere in family life.

"This is a historic vote because in certain countries the state's role in family life is way too much," said Andrei Isayev, an MP representing United Russia. "Today's vote will end such practices in the Russian Federation."

Anyone who inflicts serious physical harm will still be criminally liable.

"The criminal code still carries criminal responsibility for battery, but now it will be applicable only for repeat offenders," Olga Batalina, one of the bill's co-authors, told state television. All those "who terrorize their family members, who do it repeatedly [...] will face criminal responsibility."

Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech at the opening session of the newly elected State Duma in 2016

Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech at the opening session of the newly elected State Duma in 2016

Women's rights?

Activists picketed the Duma on Wednesday morning to oppose the bill, which has caused controversy and attracted more than 200,000 signatures online against it.

Women's rights campaigners called the proposed law a step backwards.

"This law calls for the exoneration of tyrants in the home," Maria Mokhova, executive director of the "Sisters" crisis center for abuse victims, said. "The message is, 'Let's not punish a person who at home beat up his family, just because he has the right to do that,'" she told the Reuters news agency.

A national problem

About 14,000 women die every year in Russia at the hands of husbands or other relatives, according to a 2010 United Nations report.

A survey this month by state-run pollster VTsIOM showed that 19 percent of Russians said "it can be acceptable" to hit one's wife, husband or child "in certain circumstances."

jbh/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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