December 19, 2013 in Nation/World

Russia passes amnesty bill, but questions remain

Nataliya Vasilyeva Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Photographer Denis Sinyakov and Greenpeace activist Sini Saarela embrace after Russia passed an amnesty bill.
(Full-size photo)

MOSCOW – Russia’s parliament on Wednesday passed an amnesty bill that will likely apply to the 30-member crew of a Greenpeace ship detained after an Arctic protest, but it wasn’t immediately clear if and when the activists would be allowed to leave the country.

The amnesty, which also would likely free the two jailed members of the punk band Pussy Riot, has been largely viewed as the Kremlin’s attempt to soothe criticism of Russia’s human rights records ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February. But opposition lawmakers argued it doesn’t go nearly far enough and the complicated legislation appeared to leave many questions open.

The State Duma on Wednesday voted 446-0 in favor of the carefully tailored bill, which mostly applies to those who haven’t committed violent crimes, first-time offenders, minors and women with small children. Lawmakers said they expect about 2,000 people to be released from jail.

The Duma adopted last-minute amendments to the bill to include suspects of hooliganism who are still awaiting trial, a provision that could apply to the crew of a Greenpeace ship facing those charges after their September protest in the Arctic.

The activists, who spent two months in jail before they were granted bail, were initially accused of piracy, but authorities later changed that charge to hooliganism.

The nation’s top investigative agency has said, however, that the probe into the incident isn’t over yet and that some of the crew members could face additional charges, such as assaulting a law enforcement official, so it has remained unclear whether the Greenpeace crew will be pardoned.

Greenpeace said it hopes that the amnesty bill will allow foreign crew members of the Arctic ship to get exit visas and leave Russia.

“The Arctic 30 now hope they can spend Christmas at home,” Greenpeace spokesman Aaron Gray-Block said. “But it is too early to say.”

The crew members insist the charges against them were bogus.

The bill is also expected to release Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, the jailed members of the punk band Pussy Riot who are serving two years in prison on charges of hooliganism for an irreverent anti-Kremlin protest at Moscow’s main cathedral. They both have small children.

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