Pussy Riot to Go Free as Russia Passes Amnesty Bill

Image: Pussy Riot to Go Free as Russia Passes Amnesty Bill

Thursday, 19 Dec 2013 07:06 AM

By Michael Mullins

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Pussy Riot members and Greenpeace protestors detained in Russia might get an early release, courtesy of an amnesty bill passed Wednesday by the Russian parliament.

The bill, which passed with a 446-0 vote in the Russian Duma, will likely free approximately 2,000 individuals, the vast majority of whom are first-time offenders, minors, and women jailed on nonviolent offenses.

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Lawmakers added on last minute amendments that included suspects of hooliganism who are still awaiting trial. The provision could apply to the 30-member crew of a Greenpeace ship facing those charges after their September protest in the Arctic, The Associated Press reported.

"The Arctic 30 now hope they can spend Christmas at home," Greenpeace spokesman Aaron Gray-Block told the AP. "But it is too early to say."

In September, armed Russian security officers stormed Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise icebreaker ship after several environmental activists had earlier attempted to scale an oil platform from the ship for an apparent second time as part of its ongoing protest against oil exploration on the Arctic shelf. The oil rig is owned by the Moscow-headquartered energy giant Gazprom.

"I might soon be going home to my family, but I should never have been charged and jailed in the first place," the ship's captain, Peter Willcox, said in a statement.

The amnesty bill will also likely extend to the two Pussy Riot protestors, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, who are currently serving two-year sentences for their crude protest concert in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior in February 2012.

The bill, which is expected to go into effect Thursday, has been characterized by some as a thinly veiled attempt by Russian President Vladimir Putin to soothe criticism of the nation's human rights records ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.

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"[The amnesty bill] has buried all hopes of human rights activists and families of political prisoners that their children and family members will be set free," Opposition lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov told the AP.

One person that the amnesty bill will not free is former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who has been widely described as Russia's top political prisoner. He received a 14-year sentence in 2003 after being convicted of stealing oil from his own company and laundering the proceeds. Khodorkovsky was an outspoken critic of Putin's power.

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