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Amnesty proposals by Russia’s human rights council trigger heated debate

October 17, 2013, 16:07 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara
Photo ITAR-TASS/Fyodor Savintsev

Photo ITAR-TASS/Fyodor Savintsev

MOSCOW, October 17 (Itar-Tass) - Russia’s presidential human rights council has acted on Vladimir Putin’s instructions to draft proposals for amnestying different categories of convicts. The document was submitted to the head of State on Wednesday. The proposed mass amnesty will be declared in November and timed for the 20th anniversary of Russia’s Constitution. As soon as the proposals were published, heated debates by lawyers, politicians and experts followed.

About 700,000 convicts are kept in Russian jails today, according to Interior Ministry statistics. Experts say the amnesty may concern 200,000 men and women. Under the Constitution a final decision will be made by the State Duma.

The Human Rights Council suggests amnestying “all persons brought to justice for committing non-violent abuse, which did not cause grave irreparable damage to people’s health of lives.”

The authors of the document believe that “all first offenders who are serving prison terms of three years and less should be released from jail.” Also, the measure may apply to participants in public events who violated the law on rallies, and also those convicts whose prison term is due to end in less than twelve months.

In strict accordance with conspiracy theory laws journalists and experts were quick to start guessing who of the jailed celebrities may benefit from the amnesty. First and foremost, the media said with reference to HRC member Kirill Kabanov, the measure may apply to the former co-owners of YUKOS, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, whose terms are expiring in less than a year.

Then there may follow the participants in the Bolotnaya Square rioting on May 6, 2012, who are faced with jail terms up to ten years. Also, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of the notorious punk group Pussy Riot, who staged an outrageous punk prayer in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, may be set free.

Opposition figure head Aleksei Navalny, who in last September’s mayoral election in Moscow received 27 percent of the votes may heave a sigh of relief. Last Wednesday a court changed his prison sentence to a suspended one. However, for the time being Navalny will be unable to travel out of the country or participate in elections until his conviction has been cancelled. Also, he will remain in the data bases of convicts till the end of this life with all the ensuing consequences.

Human Rights Council chief Mikhail Fedotov believes that he may be amnestied and the conviction, cancelled. In the meantime Russia’s Investigative Committee is considering two criminal cases against Aleksei Navalny and his brother.

The political parties represented in the State Duma see different priorities in the amnesty bill. The Communist Party will press for amnestying those convicted in the Bolotnaya Square rioting case. Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democrats and the ruling United Russia party have come out for the release of those sentenced under corruption-related articles.

Human rights activist Ella Pamfilova, leader of the national movement Civic Dignity, has told ITAR-TASS the Russian legislation has not yet overcome the habit of using criminal punishment mechanisms very selectively. She said that the HRC proposals may put on an equal footing the key figure in the Oboronservis affair, Yevgeniya Vasilieva, who is accused of causing multi-billion-rouble damage to the state and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, convicted of a frivolous escapade in a church.

The dean of the department at the Higher School of Economics, HRC member Sergei Karaganov, has told Itar-Tass, “I have no comments regarding the amnesty proposals. In contrast to some of my colleagues I have signed the document. What makes me feel dismayed is the Russian judiciary has an amazing conviction bias. Russia is the world’s leader by the number of convictions. A tiny two percent of Russian courts’ verdicts are acquittals. Therefore my civic position is as many convicts as possible should be set free by the 20th anniversary of the Constitution, except for those who are behind bars for violent crimes and crimes against minors.”

HRC member Irina Khakamada has told Itar-Tass in an interview, “The classical amnesty implies expectant mothers, disabled and retirees should be the first to be released. But one should not rule out some of those serving terms at correctional establishments across the nation are there as a result of judicial mistakes.”

Russia’s Constitution, which is about to turn 20, is geared to protecting people’s rights and freedoms. For that reason a large-scale amnesty will be consonant with the letter and spirit of the country’s fundamental law,” Khakamada said.