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Amnesty plans spark controversy over Russia’s jailed corruptioneers

February 16, 2015, 20:24 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara
© ITAR-TASS/Yury Smityuk

MOSCOW, February 16. /TASS/. The theme of declaring a special amnesty timed for the 70th anniversary of the allied victory over Nazi Germany in what is commonly remembered and celebrated in Russia and most other post-Soviet states as the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 has caused a great divergence of opinion among Russian experts and legislators. The debate is revolving mostly over whether it would be a right and proper thing to do to amnesty those convicted of corruption.

Members of the presidential council for the promotion of civil society and human rights have drafted an amnesty resolution timed for the 70th V-Day anniversary. The draft contains a proposal for releasing from penitentiaries all those who are serving their first sentence no greater than three years. Irrespective of the prison term’s duration the amnesty may be applied to women with children under age or having children with disabilities, retirees, disabled and other convicts except for those found guilty of grave crimes.

At the same time, according to the human rights council, convicts not responsible for causing harm to other peoples’ life or health also deserve early release. And it is this proposal that has drawn strong criticism from State Duma members. The head of the State Duma’s committee on security and resistance to corruption, Irina Yarovaya, is unprepared to agree with an amnesty for swindlers who committed crimes under aggravating circumstances or were convicted of gross fraud.

"It is not a matter of names. It is a matter of justice and irreversibility of punishment," Yarovaya said.

"Most probably Yarovaya had in mind the names of high profile personalities. Very few people are concerned about the future of opposition figurehead Alexey Navalny, who was given a suspended sentence in a corruption-related case, or his brother Oleg, who is serving a three-year prison term on fraud charges. As for the fraudulent activities by the former chief of the Defense Ministry’s property management department, Yevgenia Vasilieva, whose case is still being examined in court, they are well-known even in the remotest village. If she is amnestied only because some find her a pretty sweetie or for her ability to rhyme a couple of lines, it will be a hard blow to those who still believe in the eventual triumph of justice," a human rights council member, chief of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, Kirill Kabanov, told TASS.

On the contrary, human rights council member Ilya Shablinsky believes that the chances of amnesty being applied to all mentioned personalities are rather high. "Oleg Navalny may be released because the human rights council’s amnesty draft envisages the release of those sentenced to three years or less, and Navalny’s suspended term may be cut by half," Shablinsky told TASS. And human rights council member Andrey Babushkin said Yevgenia Vasilieva’s chances to be amnestied will soar, if she manages to compensate for the damage caused to the state."

The human rights council’s amnesty draft mentions no specific names or the number of persons to whom the measure may be applied. Under the Constitution amnesties are declared by the State Duma, where legislators are working on their own proposals.

"The forthcoming amnesty will be timed for a great date. Its feasibility is confirmed by the current political stability in the country and growing confidence in the president and the authorities. So there are no fears the amnesty may cause an excessive criminalization of society," Kabanov said.

"Besides, the amnesty is an adequate response to likely judicial mistakes and flaws of the law enforcement system. We, human rights council members are getting messages from the Federal Penitentiaries Service saying prisons are filled beyond capacity amnesty is needed badly to ease this overcrowding," Kabanov said.

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