Friday, May 16, 2008

Sins of Alexander III


In his zeal to stamp out disaffection Alexander III reintroduced the knout, discontinued in a previous reign, and practically abolished trial by jury. In 1888 he sanctioned an order, signed by Galkin Vrasskoi, head of the central prison department, declaring that henceforth "no difference shall be admitted in favor of political prisoners in respect of punishment," and that "flogging with the rod and with the whip shall be admitted." This annihilated the distinction up to then maintained between political offenders and ordinary criminals, since it gave to the executive officer of prisons the right to flog "politicals" in his charge, and it was under this order, sanctioned by the czar, that Mme. Sigida received the brutal beating that ended in her death.

Another reactionary feature of prison administration for which the government of Alexander III was responsible is the introduction of imprisonment by administrative order. Previous to 1886 the administrative exile of political suspects to various places of residence in the provinces and to Siberia was common enough, but in that year was begun the practice of committing these suspects to jail and holding them there without trial as "a preventive measure," at the will and caprice of the executive. A new prison in St. Petersburg, known as "The Cross," has been designated to meet the case of this kind of offenders — that is, of people who have not committed any crime, but are simply suspected of being about to become "politically untrustworthy." — Edmund Noble in Donahoe's Magazine.

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