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Pussy Riot, Greenpeace activists covered in Putin amnesty draft

Dec. 11, 2013 at 12:02 AM   |   Comments

MOSCOW, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- A draft amnesty issued this week by Russian President Vladimir Putin will cover those charged with hooliganism such as the band Pussy Riot, a Duma leader says.

Vladimir Vasilyev, vice speaker of the Russian State Duma, told broadcaster Vesti FM Putin's draft amnesty decree -- submitted to the legislative body Monday to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Russian Federation's constitution -- will apply to about 25,000 people, including those charged with hooliganism.

Among that group are two imprisoned members of the punk rock band Pussy Riot -- Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova -- as well as the 30 participants of a September Greenpeace protest at a Russian oil rig in the Arctic Ocean, who are currently free on bail.

Vasilyev said the amnesty, if adopted by the Duma, would result in the release of 1,300 prisoners and the pardons of 17,500 others from non-custodial sentences. Another 6,000 now facing criminal proceedings would see their charges dropped, he said.

Putin asked Russian human rights activists to assemble a draft amnesty bill in September and a month later it was approved by Presidential Council for Human Rights, headed by Mikhail Fedotov and human rights activist Lyudmila Alekseeva.

Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova are serving two-year prison sentences for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for a performing a "punk rock prayer" in Moscow's main cathedral in February 2012.

A third band member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was tried and released on appeal.

Tolokonnikova's lawyer has argued she has faced brutal conditions since being placed in the Russian prison system. Tolokonnikova went on two hunger strikes after saying she and others at a prison in Mordovia were forced to endure inhumane conditions.

The Greenpeace activists of the Dutch-flagged Arctic Sunrise were arrested in September by Russian authorities after two of the activists tried to scale the side of an arctic oil rig operated by the Russian energy giant Gazprom.

They were initially charged with piracy, but the charges were downgraded to hooliganism.

Greenpeace has paid $60,000 per person to get the activists out of jail.

The amnesty would also apply to some of the 27 people imprisoned as a result of the May 2012 anti-Putin demonstrations in Moscow's Bolotnaya Square, the Russian business daily Vedomosti reported.

A source on the Presidential Council for Human Rights told the publication the decree would cover nine prisoners who are accused of rioting, while the rest -- facing charges of using violence against police -- would not be affected.

Also covered under the amnesty are other high-profile Russian cases which have been condemned by human rights activists, Vedomosti reported.

These include opposition political figure Alexei Navalny, who last month was given a five-year suspended sentence in an embezzlement trial on what he called trumped-up charges.

Another is Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon who has spent 10 years in jail on fraud and tax evasion charges.

However, Deputy Prosecutor General Alexander Zvyagintsev told Interfax last week Khodorkovsky could face new charges.

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