Russia grants jailed Pussy Riot members amnesty

Pussy Riot members will be realised. Source: Reuters

Pussy Riot members will be realised. Source: Reuters

Greenpeace activists and protesters from the Bolotnya demonstrations will also be released of charges thanks to a new amnesty bill approved by the Russian parliament.

Russia will grant amnesty to the remaining jailed Pussy Riot band members, 30 Greenpeace activists and anti-government demonstrators arrested in May 2012 as part of a new amnesty bill passed by the parliament to mark the 20th anniversary of the country's first post-Soviet constitution.

The State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, passed the document this week. The amnesty will go into force by the end of this week and will pardon 10,000 to 25,000 prison inmates and suspects.

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The current amnesty covers the two jailed members of the controversial punk band Pussy Riot, some of the people held during the May 2012 opposition rally in Moscow, and the 30 Greenpeace activists detained over the attempted boarding of a Russian Arctic offshore platform in September 2013.

The Greenpeace 30 may get amnestied prior to the hearing of their case, while Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina will get out of jail a couple of months before the end of their sentences.

The State Duma refused to extend the amnesty to persons sentenced under Article 282 of the Criminal Code (incitement of hatred or enmity, as well as the humiliation of human dignity).

According to those who have seen the bill, it appears that the amnesty will cover former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, who is being charged with negligence. The other persons due to stand trial in the Defense Ministry embezzlement case will have to meet their verdicts.

The parliament upheld the relevant committee's recommendations not to extend the amnesty to people sentenced for abuse of power with the use of violence, arms, or special equipment, or with the infliction of grave consequences; and also to terrorists, paedophiles, and drug addicts.

The amnesty bill, which was proposed by President Vladimir Putin earlier this month, covers the least socially protected categories of convicts, suspects, and criminal defendants, as well as persons with merits to the country.

According to the accompanying note, "these categories include individuals that committed crimes while underage; women with underage children; pregnant women; women aged over 55 and men aged over 60; individuals in disability categories I and II; Chernobyl liquidators; servicemen, officers of the Interior Ministry and the penal system, and other individuals that have taken part in combat operations or in operations to defend the Fatherland."

The State Duma considered a total of 10 draft amnesty resolutions. The version proposed by Putin scored the highest number of votes (442), compared to between 88 and 157 votes cast for the other versions.

All these people will only be amnestied if they have no prior convictions, and if their current prison term does not exceed five years. The amnesty resolution does not have to be approved by the Federation Council (the upper house of the Russian parliament) or signed by the president. In accordance with the constitution, declaring an amnesty is the exclusive prerogative of the State Duma.

According to the Russian human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin, the amnesty will cover more than 20,000 convicts and suspects, including 2,000 prison inmates. Lukin hailed the decision "not to extend the amnesty to those who, in their capacity as representatives of government agencies, disgraced the government by using torture." He also praised the extension of the amnesty to participants in mass riots.

Lukin said he appreciated "the government's concerns that a broader amnesty could affect the crime rate," but added that there was still room for extending the measure to cover more categories of criminals, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported.

Olga Kostina, a member of the Russian Public Chamber and head of the Soprotivlenie (Resistance) public organization, approved of the compromise amnesty version, saying that otherwise, people sentenced for grave crimes might have been released.

"Human rights advocates criticize the president, but they tend to forget that the president must guarantee equal rights to all citizens. We must understand that no one in Russia really handles former convicts, because there are no corresponding laws or programs. Human rights activists prefer not to mention this problem,” she said.

“The Human Rights Council, which reports to the president, may be guided by the goal of releasing people whom it considers to be political prisoners, but it is running the risk of releasing pedophiles, rapists, terrorists, and hooligans in the process,” Kostina said.

According to the Russian criteria, crimes that would be classed as grave anywhere in the world are only classed as medium-gravity crimes, she said, adding that she believes the issues revealed during the drafting of the amnesty should stimulate a reform of the Russian criminal policy.

"Many post-Soviet countries already have new criminal codes, and ours should be amended, too," she said.

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