Russian MPs back mass prisoner amnesty for WWII anniversary

24th April 2015, Comments 0 comments

Russian lawmakers on Friday backed a mass prisoner amnesty proposed by President Vladimir Putin that could free thousands ahead of next month's World War II victory anniversary.

The Duma lower house of parliament approved the amnesty bill -- submitted by Putin as a humanitarian gesture to mark the 70-year commemoration of Soviet victory over Nazi troops on May 9 -- in a unanimous vote.

"We think that 60,000 people would be affected by the amnesty and walk out of prison," said senior ruling party lawmaker Pavel Krasheninnikov, after presenting the bill.

Putin's bill covers those convicted or jailed for minor crimes and who are war veterans, single parents of minors, convicts who have certain illnesses or disabilities, and first-time offenders.

However the bill has a long list of exclusions and prisoner rights activists say only a handful of people would actually walk free.

"It's not an amnesty, it makes a mockery of common sense and of the convicts," said Olga Romanova, who heads Sitting Rus, an organisation that campaigns for prisoners' rights.

She said it was "cynical" that the amnesty does not include those who are sole providers for their parents who are elderly war veterans and Nazi prison camp victims.

"It's simply cruel," she said.

"The number of people walking out of penal camps on this amnesty will be practically zero," said another Sitting Rus expert, Inna Bazhibina, since it excludes those convicted on drug related and business-related crimes, who make up the majority of the prison population.

Prisoners had great hopes for the amnesty, but as in previous amnesties, "there is great disappointment," she said.

"It's being done to say that there's an amnesty, not as an act of mercy."

The Kremlin's rights council had proposed a wider amnesty but most of their suggestions were apparently ignored.

A previous amnesty Putin signed ahead of the Winter Olympic Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi allowed the Pussy Riot punks to leave their colonies. It also set free Greenpeace activists detained during a protest against Arctic drilling.

The authorities had said then that up to 25,000 would be freed, but Sitting Rus said only 1,000 people actually benefited.

© 2015 AFP

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