Russia's lower house of parliament decided Thursday to delay debate on a bill that would let the country ignore rulings by the European Court of Human Rights.
The bill submitted by deputy upper house speaker Alexander Torshin would free Russian courts of the need to reconsider their rulings if the Strasbourg-based court finds they breach a European rights convention.
The measure follows Moscow's criticism of some previous rulings of the Strasbourg courts, which Russian officials have described as politically driven. Leading Russian rights activists harshly criticized the new bill as a violation of the nation's international obligations and Russia's own constitution in a letter released Thursday.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Svetlana Gnnushkina and other prominent rights defenders warned that the bill, if approved, would "take us out of the civilized world" and "turn the nation into a laughing stock."
Lawmakers in the State Duma were to consider the bill Friday, but the house leadership decided Thursday to take it off the agenda saying it needs more work. No date has been set for debate.
Russia's refusal to respect the ECHR's rulings would contradict its obligations as a member of the Council of Europe, the continent's leading rights group, which it joined in 1996.
Vladimir Pligin, the head of the Duma's committee for state regulations, said more discussions with Russia's high courts are required before the parliament considers the bill.
The European Court of Human Rights has become the last resort for many Russians who lost appeals at home, including many victims of two separatist wars in Chechnya. Russian rights activists say the large number of appeals to the court by Russians reflects the weakness of the nation's judicial system, which is plagued by endemic corruption and official interference.
"The Strasbourg rulings have helped many victims of persecution restore their rights," leading Russian rights advocates said in a letter.