The Russian legal system’s split personality

Danielle Wiener-Bronner
Apr 26, 2013 16:23 UTC

Attorneys of dead anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky sit in front of an empty defendants cage during a court session in Moscow, March 22, 2013.  REUTERS/Mikhail Voskresensky

In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the rule of law is most often seen as the law of rulers.

Russia’s judicial system is perceived as a means to curb the influence of figures who pose a threat to the Kremlin. In 2005, Yukos Oil CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky was imprisoned on trumped-up charges of fraud in one of Russia’s most controversial cases. In 2009 Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who accused police officials of stealing $230 million from the government in a tax fraud scheme, died in prison after being held for a year without charge. And in April of this year, Russian prosecutors suspended a leftist opposition group for three months, barring the Left Front from organizing or accessing their bank account until July 19.

It is not surprising, then, that Russians don’t trust the objectivity of their courts.  Daniel Rothstein, a commercial lawyer who has practiced in Russia, said in a phone interview that during the 1990s, “people didn’t trust the courts at all.” And yet, despite the perception of high courts as malleable to Putin’s influence and the fear of unjust arrest and conviction without trial, Russia’s lower courts are flooded with disputants and generally well reviewed.

It is difficult, from a Western perspective, to understand the discrepancy between a lack of faith in the courts and a willing endorsement of their functionality. But Russian legal expert William Butler, a law professor at Penn State, says that Russians attitude toward the court is a paradox – despite their suspicion, “Russians go to court a lot. They’re very litigious.” According to Kathryn Hendley, a professor of law and political science at the University of Wisconsin Law School who has spent time in Russian Justice-of-the-Peace (JP) courts observing civil suits, cases such as Khordokovsky’s and Magnitsky’s “don’t get much traction in Russia,” where the press is controlled by the state. “There is the Internet and people could get more information if they wanted, but people aren’t really interested in these kinds of political cases.”

As Coachella ages, the festival becomes self-sustaining

Apr 23, 2013 16:22 UTC

INDIO, Calif, – Once upon a time, there was a rock music festival held every April in the California desert whose meticulous curation of artists old and new made it the de facto tastemaker for the industry. Today, there is just Coachella. And although this three-day frolic in the sun may no longer be the most influential gathering of its kind, it has achieved something potentially even larger – an ability to sustain itself.

The three-day music marathon concluded its second weekend on Sunday, selling some 150,000 passes in total and making it the most-successful festival of its kind with gross receipts of about $50 million, according to Billboard. Almost 150 bands, musicians and performance artists made the trek to Indio, a scruffy suburb of Palm Springs, on two successive weekends to play on one of a half-dozen stages.

On this, the 14th Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, it would not be far off to say the event’s financial success has eclipsed its influence. Coachella once was the premier showcase for bands on the precipice of breaking out ‑ Arcade Fire or LCD Soundsystem come to mind – or those re-forming ‑ such as Pavement or Rage Against the Machine – to play for audiences who rediscovered their music.

Perspectives of global gun cultures

Apr 12, 2013 21:13 UTC

Gun culture in the United States carries a reputation abroad. Although the stereotype of trigger-happy Americans is perpetuated largely by Hollywood, near-constant media reports of shootings across the U.S. lend credence to the notion of a country obsessed with firearms.

Statistically, the perception’s not too far off. Forty-seven percent of Americans reported owning a gun in a 2011 Gallup poll, and data compiled by the Guardian from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime shows there are nearly nine guns for every 10 people in the United States, the highest level of ownership in the world.

Elsewhere in the world, private gun ownership is subject to different laws and premised on different cultural backgrounds. In a series of photo essays, Reuters photographers around the world chronicled vignettes of gun culture, capturing scenes from shooting ranges, hunting expeditions, roadside murders, and more. These recollections from the professionals who bear witness to the use of deadly weapons help give context to the role guns play in our world.