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Constitution anniversary amnesty in Russia to release 25,000 from jail

December 10, 2013, 17:53 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara
© ITAR-TASS Archive/Mikhail Rogozin

MOSCOW, December 10./ITAR-TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin has put forward an amnesty bill timed for the 20th anniversary of the Russian Constitution - an event Russian society has been looking forward to for several months. The head of the Presidential Council for Human Rights, Mikhail Fedotov, said following a meeting with Putin last Wednesday, 50,000-100,000 would be released from jail, while Russian Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin mentioned 30,000-50,000. On Monday, State Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Vasiliev said about 25,000 would regain freedom.

The main idea behind the amnesty is to release those sentenced for up to five years. The amnesty will also set free people who committed crimes while in minor age, women that have minor children, pregnant women, and women above 60 years old. Men above 60, people with first and second grade disabilities, cleanup workers who were involved in eliminating the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, military, police, penitentiary system employees and other convicts with a record of combat operations in the defense of country are within this group, too.

The HRC that drew up amnesty proposals on the president’s instructions also recommended releasing all people convicted of non-violent crimes that did not entail severe irrevocable damage to life and health.

When the Council’s amnesty report was released in October, some media fond of mulling conspiracy theories started speculating whether the amnesty would result in the release the former head of Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his partner Platon Lebedev.

Also, there were guesses the authorities would forgive convicts in the so-called ‘Bolotnaya square riot case’ that followed disorders on May 6, 2012. Those involved in the case are faced with up to ten years in prison. Some media assumed the amnesty might concern Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of the punk group Pussy Riot, notorious for its controversial escapade in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Some said the opposition figure head Aleksey Navalny, convicted and sentenced to a five-year suspended prison term for embezzlement, could also breathe a sigh of relief.

Some of the forecasts have proved wrong, though. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are not to be amnestied, as they are convicted to ten years. Navalny will remain on probation, as the crime he is believed to have committed is absent from the amnesty list.

The lawyers hope the amnesty will result in the release eight convicts in the Bolotnaya Square riot case as well as Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, mother of an under-age child, convicted of hooliganism. The Greenpeace activists on trial in the Arctic Sunrise case may also be amnestied.

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, about 700,000 men and women are now serving prison terms; 25,000 of them may be amnestied, which is about 3.5 percent of the total number of convicts. The final figures will be announced December 21, when the State Duma will make the constitutional decision.

State Duma fractions have different views of priorities in the amnesty bill. The Communist Party is planning to stand up for the Bolotnaya case amnesty, while the political party LDPR and the ruling party United Russia have come out for releasing convicts responsible for corruption. Yevgeniya Vasilieva, a suspect in the high-profile Oboronservice case, held responsible for defrauding the state of 4 billion rubles ($120 million) is not liable to the amnesty.

“I was not at all surprised about what I saw in the presidential bill. At a Valdai club meeting and in conversations with human rights activists Putin was outspoken about the pending amnesty. I cannot but welcome this presidential act of good will devoted to the 20th anniversary of the Russian Constitution,” a senior lecturer at the national research institute Higher School of Economics, Vitaly Kurennoy, told Itar-Tass.

“Unfortunately, the number of those to be amnestied disappoints. I had expected there would be twice as many of them,” he added.

Political scientist Mark Urnov has described the bill as "a compromise with society." “The amnesty will release participants in headline, high-profile trials, like the Bolotnaya Square unrest case and the Pussy Riot affair. This will scale down tensions in society,” Urnov believes.

As for the fate of Khodorkovsky, who may face another criminal investigation launched by the Prosecutor-General's Office, Urnov said that “different forces in power have different views of his future.”

All in all, Urnov considers the Constitution-dedicated amnesty as an act of clemency. “This is an old Soviet and Russian tradition. It is common knowledge that our prisons are over-crowded and conditions there are appalling. The more people are out of jail, the better.


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