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Pussy Riot And ‘Arctic 30’ Activists Could Be Freed After Russia Passes Amnesty Bill
December 18, 2013
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(Photo: Sergey Ponomarev/Associated Press)

Russia's parliament today passed a prison amnesty bill that lawyers say should facilitate the release of two Pussy Riot band members and 30 jailed Greenpeace activists.

The State Duma, Russia's lower house, voted 446-0 in favour of the bill, which mainly concerns first-time offenders, minors, pregnant women and mothers with young children.

There were two charges specifically mentioned in the Kremlin-backed bill — hooliganism and participating in mass riots. People convicted of those crimes were to be granted amnesty, according to the bill.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, members of the all-female punk band Pussy Riot, are serving two-year sentences for hooliganism relating to a 2012 incident during which they staged an anti-Putin "punk prayer" at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

Both women have young children.

Their lawyer, Irina KhrunovaIrina, told Bloomberg in a phone interview today that "according to the draft law passed today, my clients will be freed."

A third member of Pussy Riot, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released on probation last October.

The arrests of Pussy Riot led to worldwide protests, with critics arguing that a two-year sentence was too harsh a penalty for their protests. In July, more than 100 musicians including Paul McCartney, Madonna, Sting, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Radiohead and Bjork signed an open letter from Amnesty International demanding the releases of Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina.

And in September, Tolokonnikova went on a hunger strike to protest "slavery-like conditions." (Tolokonnikova's husband, artist Pyotr Verzilov, lived in Toronto for several years and is a Canadian citizen; Tolokonnikova has permanent residence status here.)

Approval of the amnesty bill was branded by the human-rights group Amnesty International as a token gesture commemorating 20 years since Russia ratified its constitution, Agence France-Presse reported.

Amnesty International said it viewed the move as an attempt by the Kremlin to appease international critics on Russia's human-rights record in the lead-up to the Sochi Olympics.

Greenpeace also said today that all 30 crew members arrested in the Barents Sea for protesting the Arctic oil rush in September have been granted amnesty under the new bill. 

The amnesty doesn't need approval by the upper chamber and is likely to go into effect on Thursday, according to AFP.

The so-called "Arctic 30" activists, which includes two Canadians, were granted bail last month, but were still being kept in Russia. The group was initially charged with piracy, but those charges were later downgraded to hooliganism.

Ben Stewart, a Greenpeace spokesperson, told AFP that the foreign crew from the Greenpeace Arctic Sunrise ship all hope to return home in time for Christmas with their families.

"There is certainly a chance, but until they actually leave Russia everything is speculation," he said.

Via Agence France-Presse

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