Russian MPs pass bill to soften domestic violence law

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image captionA quarter of murders and serious assaults in Russia take place in the home, according to official statistics

Russia's lower house of parliament has passed a bill to decriminalise some forms of domestic violence.

Under the proposed legislation, first-time offenders who do not cause serious injury will face a maximum of 15 days police custody instead of up to two years in jail.

It now needs the approval of the upper house and President Vladimir Putin.

Campaigners say the bill - dubbed the "slapping law" - would mean the "exoneration of tyrants in the home".

The State Duma voted 380-3 for the bill, two days after it passed its second reading.

Lighter penalties

The bill, drafted by MP Olga Batalina, concerns assaults that inflict physical pain but do not cause bodily injury that threatens the victim's health.

It followed a change in the criminal code in July which decriminalised battery against strangers, but made battery within the family a criminal offence.

Conservatives argued that it was unacceptable that parents could therefore face harsher penalties for smacking their children than a neighbour would.

Under the bill, the first offence would be considered administrative rather than criminal and punished with a fine of up to 30,000 rubles (£400; €470), detention of up to 15 days or compulsory community service up to 120 hours.

Assaults causing serious injury or repeat offences within a year would still be criminal offences and carry potential jail terms.

"We want to show that Russian deputies will not allow the same excesses present in Western Europe," said ruling party lawmaker Andrei Isayev, claiming that European children "inform on their parents" in order to get their way, which leads to the parents losing custody.

But MPs from the Communist Party opposed the bill.

"Women don't often go to the police or the courts regarding their abusive husbands, now there will be even fewer such cases, and the number of murders will increase," said lawmaker Yury Sinelshchikov.

On Wednesday, Maria Mokhova, the executive director of the Sisters crisis centre for abuse victims, told Reuters: "This law calls for the exoneration of tyrants in the home.

"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.'"

Russian interior ministry statistics show that 9,800 women died as a result of a serious assault in 2015, and that a quarter of murders and serious assaults take place in the home.

A petition launched by women's rights activist Alena Popova calling for comprehensive legislation against domestic violence has reached nearly 239,000 signatures.

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