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Russian amnesty to free Pussy Riot and Greenpeace 30

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-18

Russia's parliament on Wednesday approved an amnesty that lawyers said would free two jailed members of punk band Pussy Riot and enable 30 people arrested in September's Greenpeace protest against Arctic oil drilling to avoid trial.

The amnesty, unanimously passed by the lower house of parliament, was proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Russia's post-Soviet constitution.

Branded as a token gesture by some rights activists, the bill will become law as soon as it is signed by President Putin. It will also mean that several anti-Putin protesters, in prison since a May 2012 rally, will go free.

The bill affects a range of categories including mothers with dependents, minors and the elderly. It also specifically mentions the charge of hooliganism as well as the charge of participating in mass riots.

The jailed members of the punk band Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, currently serving two-year sentences on charges of hooliganism for staging an anti-Putin "punk prayer" protest in a cathedral, could be released as early as Thursday, Tolokonnikova's husband Pyotr Verzilov said.

Officials in Krasnoyarsk and Nizhny Novgorod, where the two women are currently being held, have promised to free them "right away and without bureaucratic delay, probably tomorrow," Verzilov wrote on his Twitter feed.

Amendments to include Greenpeace activists

The initial bill says only convicted criminals can seek amnesty.

But Greenpeace said a last-minute amendment to the bill meant that Russia would almost certainly end legal proceedings against 30 people facing jail terms of up to seven years if convicted over a protest at an offshore oil platform in September.

This would allow the 26 foreigners among them to go home, possibly in time for Christmas, according to Greenpeace spokesman Ben Stewart.

"There is certainly a chance, but until they actually leave Russia everything is speculation," he told reporters in an email.

All 30 were arrested after the ship was boarded by Russian special forces in September.

Last month the entire crew was released on bail, but Greenpeace said the foreigners were still being refused exit visas.

'Not a wide amnesty'

The amnesty on mass rioting charges will also affect Russian protesters prosecuted under a probe after a rally on May 6, 2012, held in Moscow one day before Putin's inauguration for a third Kremlin term.

Three protesters who are under pre-trial arrest after being charged with participating in mass riots will be freed, one from house arrest. However, most of those arrested under the probe will remain in jail due to additional charges of assaulting policemen.

The ruling United Russia party hailed the amnesty Wednesday as proof that President Vladimir Putin listens to his political opposition and human rights activists.

Party deputy Pavel Krasheninnikov, who presented the amnesty to the floor, told Echo of Moscow radio that the amnesty will affect some 15,000 people, and result in up to 3,500 of that number being released from jail.

Rights activists, however, said the bill was insufficient.

"This amnesty has nothing to do with what we proposed," said veteran rights defender Lyudmila Alexeyeva, noting that the number to be freed was a tiny fraction of Russia's total prison population of 700,000.

"We proposed a wide amnesty for all those whose crimes were not violent," she told AFP. "But that hasn't happened."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)
 

Date created : 2013-12-18

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