Following Nicholas II's 1905 October Manifesto, political parties and trade unions exist legally for the first time in Russian history. The representative assembly, the Duma, is empowered to make laws and monitor government, but the tsar's decree remains all powerful. The emergency laws of 1881 remain largely in place: Authorities may fine, exile, and imprison individuals without a court decision.
The Bolshevik dictatorship makes private trade and personal property virtually illegal. In the chaos of civil war, the ideal of rule by the people is ignored, and the state exercises harsh discipline. The security police are ordered to eliminate economic speculation and any act seen as hostile to the ideal of the regime. Special revolutionary tribunals replace judicial institutions.
The supremacy of Communist Party dictate over all Soviet laws is enshrined in the constitution and carried out through an elaborate array of laws, structures and psychological taboos. Stalin's directive of 1934 allows the rapid trial and sentencing of suspected so-called terrorists even in their absence. With the onset of Stalin's purges and mass terror, human rights and civil law cease to exist.
Khrushchev reforms and reasserts a legal system, abolishing, or at least severely restricting, military and emergency tribunals used as vehicles of terror. He purges the criminal code of vague concepts like "terrorist intentions," so common in Stalin's mass arrests and show trials. Sentences are sharply reduced, and defendants can no longer be convicted solely on the basis of their own confessions.
In 1970 Andrei Sakharov establishes the Moscow Human Rights Committee, but the government denounces and banishes him 10 years later. In 1975, at the Helsinki summit on Cooperation in Europe, the USSR makes concessions to allow human rights monitoring, but the Soviet regime remains staunchly unaccountable, and suppression of personal freedom of movement and speech continues.
Gorbachev attempts democratization of the Communist Party and the expansion of personal liberty. Glasnost (openness or transparency) allows public debate and freedom of speech. For the first time, the media can criticize the government. Dissidents arrested for their espousal of human rights are released. But political corruption remains endemic, transparency in government absent.
With the declaration of Russia as a new sovereign republic, any old and contradictory Soviet laws are nullified. Russia witnesses democratic elections and the creation of a multiparty government. A draft Russian constitution makes no mention of either the USSR or socialism. But the legal code and system remains cumbersome, contradictory, and unpredictable, with a multitude of loopholes.
Vladimir Putin's election is Russia's first constitutional transfer of power between elected leaders. Putin announces that judicial reform with independent courts is a top priority. The conflict in Chechnya strikes in Moscow when terrorists hold hostage a theater audience; the government counterattack results in civilian deaths. New anti-terror laws include limits on the media.
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