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Duma declares amnesty on occasion of 20th anniversary of Constitution

December 19, 2013, 0:37 UTC+3 MOSCOW
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MOSCOW, December 18, 22:53 /ITAR-TASS/. The State Duma, lower house of Russian parliament, on Wednesday, December 18, adopted a draft law declaring amnesty in the country in connection with the 20th anniversary of the Constitution.

Several amendments to the draft law submitted by President Vladimir Putin had been proposed, but the Committee on Civil, Criminal, Arbitration and Procedural Legislation recommended that the other nine alternative draft laws be rejected.

According to the draft amnesty law, 1,300 persons who are already serving their terms in prisons, about 17,000 persons whose penalties do not require imprisonment, and 6,000 persons under prosecution will be amnestied.

The amnesty will apply to the most socially vulnerable categories of convicts, suspects and defendants, and persons awarded for meritorious service to the country. These include persons who committed crimes when they were minors, women who have under-aged children, pregnant women, women older than 55 years of age and men older than 60 years of age, people with disabilities, persons who participated in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant cleanup operation, military servicemen, law enforcers, penitentiary system officials, and other persons who participated in combat operations to protect the country.

The amnesty will apply only persons who were sentenced to imprisonment for no more than five years and who did not serve prison terms in correctional institutions before. An exception will be made for minors who committed offences before the age 16 or who have served at least half of their terms.

The amnesty will not apply to persons who committed crimes that posed a great social danger or involved violence or threat of violence, as well as to persons who were pardoned or amnestied before, to persons who committed deliberate crimes in prison, and to prison inmates who grossly violate the terms of imprisonment.

The amnesty will apply not only to persons who have been sentenced to imprisonment, but also to persons who have been given penalties that do not require imprisonment or who received suspended sentences, and persons on parole.

Criminal proceedings against persons who are suspects or defendants under prosecution will be terminated.

According to the amendments adopted in the second reading earlier in the day, the amnesty will not apply to terrorists, pedophiles, drug addicts and persons who committed official crimes involving violence against citizens.

The fate of concrete individuals repeatedly came into focus during the amnesty debates. It is believed that the amnesty will apply to former Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov (charged with negligence in a controversial large-scale embezzlement case) and Pussy Riot punk group members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina (sentenced to prison terms for dancing in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and insulting believers’ religious feelings).

As for persons facing charges in other high-profile cases such as civil disobedience in Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square organised by the opposition in May 2012 and the Greenpeace activists from the Arctic Sunrise ship detained for an attempt to climb Gazprom’s oil platform in the Pechora Sea this year, initially they were supposed to be amnestied after their verdict had been handed down by court. However the Duma decided they should be absolved of their offences as well. However the organisers of the Bolotnaya riots will not be amnestied.

The amnesty will continue to six months after declaration.

“The presidential amnesty law on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Constitution, which was supported unanimously, takes into account practically all of the proposals made, including those put forth by the MPs,” Yaroslav Nilov, Chair of the Committee on Public Associations and Religious Organisations, said.

As a co-author of the document, he believes that there will be “no destructive effects” after the amnesty as it will free the persons who were sentenced for minor crimes. “It was the State Duma’s act of humanism in connection with such a wonderful date,” he said.

“The voting proved that this is a balanced document. It was passed practically unanimously,” Mikhail Yemelyanov, deputy head of the Just Russia faction, said.

Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said the amnesty would apply to some 20,000 people and some 2,000 who are already serving prison terms would be set free.

“I welcome any amnesty. Any amnesty concerns people’s life,” he said.

He believes it “right not to apply amnesty to persons whose torturous actions defamed the state.”

Lukin said he understood “the state’s concerns that broader amnesty can cause the crime situation to worsen” and thought such concerns were “justified.”

“But this is not the last amnesty. Why don’t we declare amnesty in connection with the centenary of World War One, when a large number of people were killed. It will be marked next summer. Let us support a new amnesty,” Lukin said.

Amnesty has been declared 17 times in Russia since 1994. Almost 20 years ago, on February 23, 1994, the first Duma declared amnesty in connection with the adoption of the new Constitution of 1993 for the sake of “national reconciliation, civil peace and consensus.” It set free 23,000 prisoners. Under the latest one, declared in July 2013, almost 1,500 entrepreneurs sentenced for economic offences were set free.

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