Thirty Greenpeace activists and two jailed members of the Pussy Riot protest group could soon be freed after Russia voted to extend an amnesty to defendants charged with ‘hooliganism’.
Russia’s state duma passed the amnesty bill, which mainly concerns first-time offenders, juveniles and women with small children. The vote could see the Greenpeace activists and two jailed members of Pussy Riot freed by Christmas.
For his part, Russian opposition party member Dmitry Gudkov said the move would prove to the world that Russia does not hold political prisoners.
But for human rights campaigners, the move is not enough and will only see a fraction of Russia’s more than half a million prisoners freed. Charges will however be dropped against 30 people that staged an oil rig protest on a Greenpeace ship in September.
Russia hopes to ease relations with the West before hosting the Winter Olympics in February. Concern over Russia’s treatment of homosexuals is already threatening to sour the Sochi Games.
But members of Putin’s own human rights council estimate it will free fewer than 1,500 convicts. Almost all Russian trials end in convictions and the prison population is nearly 700,000.
Putin plans the amnesty this month to mark the anniversary of the adoption of Russia’s post-Communist constitution in 1993.
According to a draft text on the lower house of parliament’s website, people convicted of hooliganism will be released under the amnesty. This is the charge on which Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina are serving two-year jail terms for a protest against Putin in a cathedral.