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Russian Duma votes to decriminalize domestic violence

Russian Duma votes to decriminalize domestic violenceRussia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, passed in the second reading a law making domestic violence an administrative rather than criminal offence if this happens for the first time, TASS news agency reported on Wednesday.

A total of 385 MPs voted in favor of the law, two others opposed the measure and one lawmaker abstained. Legislator Olga Batalina, one of the authors of the law, called to consider it in the third reading on January 27.

The document amends Article 116 of the Russian Criminal Code by excluding physical assaults on relatives from criminal offences while a person who commits the repeated assaults will be prosecuted according to criminal law, the authors say.

In cases of repeated assaults, a defendant will face a fine of up to 40,000 rubles ($676), compulsory community service for up to six months or an arrest for up to three months. The ruling is related to assaults that inflict physical pain but do not cause serious bodily injury. If there is any threat to the person’s health, the attacker will face criminal charges.

The administrative offence for first-time physical assaults envisages a fine of up to 30,000 rubles ($507), an arrest up to 15 days or compulsory community service up to 120 hours.

The proposal to decriminalize family violence sparked a public uproar. Russia’s State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said the law was "high-profile" and promised to take into account public opinion during the second reading.

On Tuesday, the speaker told reporters that public opinion polls showed that 59% of respondents came out against tough punishment for minor conflicts in the family that did not result in any serious body harm.

Meanwhile, Batalina stressed that most Russians condemn domestic violence but support the initiative of easing penalties for first-time assaults, according to the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center.

"Moreover, a significant number of the respondents say that the measure will lead to reducing the number of assaults in the family," she said.

Those who support the proposed change, including members of President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party, say they want to protect parents' right to discipline their children and to reduce the state's ability to meddle in family life.

But women's rights campaigners say it is a retrograde step.

"This law calls for the exoneration of tyrants in the home," says Maria Mokhova, executive director of the "Sisters" crisis center for abuse victims.

"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 said.

The State Duma passed the law decriminalizing assaults against family members in the first reading on January 11. The measure was proposed by a group of MPs and members of the Federation Council.
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