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Russian Duma Passes Amnesty Affecting Greenpeace, Pussy Riot

The change means that charges against 30 people aboard a Greenpeace ship who were detained after a protest in Russia's Arctic in September will be dropped.
Russia's State Duma has passed a prison amnesty bill that would make the two jailed members of Pussy Riot eligible for release and end the prosecution against 30 crew members of a Greenpeace ship.

It is also expected to apply to some, but not all, of the antigovernment protesters jailed after the May 2012 Bolotnaya protests.

One December 18, the State Duma voted 446-0 in favor of the amnesty, which will mainly concern minors, first-time offenders, pregnant women, and women with small children.

However, it also specifically mentions the charge of hooliganism, as well as the charge of participating in mass riots.

The move is widely seen as an attempt to deflect criticism of Russia's human rights record ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.

The legislation does not affect former oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky or opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.

The amnesty does not require approval by the upper chamber and goes into force after publication in "Rossiiskaya Gazeta," the government newspaper.

Reports say that it is likely to happen on December 19.

It is not clear, however, when those amnestied would actually be freed.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and fellow Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina are serving two-year sentences on charges of hooliganism for performing a political protest song against President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral. Both have small children. They are due for release in early March.

The husband of jailed Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Pyotr Verzilov, said he hopes she could be freed as early as December 19.

Nonetheless, in comments to Reuters late on December 17, Verzilov said that both Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were skeptical about the amnesty:

"On the one hand, they have already served their term, on the other hand, it is a chance to show off some government concessions at the end of the term," he said. "[The government] can show to the West that an amnesty has been applied. It can also have an effect on some circles within Russia."

The amnesty's original draft only applied to people convicted of hooliganism but was amended in its second reading on December 18 to also include those charged with the offence.

The amendments effectively mean that the prosecution of 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists arrested after a protest against Russian oil drilling in the Arctic and charged with hooliganism would end. The 26 non-Russians among those detained should then be free to go home.

Greenpeace activist Faiza Oulahsen said the Greenpeace detainees had not committed any crime.

"For now I'm not excited," she said. "We are being granted amnesty for peacefully protesting in the Arctic. We did nothing wrong. We've spent [time] in jail for doing nothing wrong and now we are deemed guilty but granted amnesty and 26 of us will be able to go home after this, sooner or later but what will this mean for our Russian colleagues who still have the rest of their lives in this country."

The head of the Russian State Duma's Legislation Committee Pavel Krasheninnikov stressed that the amnesty would "most certainly not apply" to those charged with actually organizing the May 2012 Bolotnaya protests.

Nonetheless, some of those arrested for participating in the restive protests could qualify for release.

The amnesty explicitly excludes a long list of crimes, including embezzlement.

Khodorkovsky is serving an 11-year prison sentence for, among other offences, embezzlement.

Navalny was given a suspended five-year sentence for embezzlement this summer.

Krasheninnikov said up to 15,000 people could be covered by the amnesty.

Russian human rights activists have criticized the amnesty as not being wide enough.

Veteran human rights activist Lyudmila Alekseyeva estimated that just over 3,000 people would actually be released from detention.

The amnesty bill was submitted to the Duma to mark the 20th anniversary of the Russian Constitution earlier this month.

With reporting by Interfax, AFP, and AP

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