Russia’s parliament has passed a law that could see the jailed members of PussyRiot, as well as the Greenpeace activists known as the Arctic 30, home for Christmas.
In a unanimous vote the Duma approved an amnesty law that grants a reprieve to those convicted of minor offences, first-time offenders, and women with young children. The deal is expected to be ratified by President Putin some time this week, possibly as early as today.
PussyRiot, a feminist punk band, were jailed for two years in early 2012 for holding a protest concert in a Moscow cathedral. The performance scandalized the establishment in Russia, and the women were swiftly arrested and convicted of hooliganism. One of them was released, but two, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, are currently incarcerated in different prisons.
According to the Guardian newspaper:
“Alyokhina is serving her time in a prison in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, while Tokolonnikova was recently moved from Mordovia, a region known for its Soviet-era gulags, to the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk. She has said that the conditions are incomparably better than in Mordovia, from where she published a long open letter detailing slave-like conditions of forced labour and cruel punishments.”
The law will also allow the members of Greenpeace known as the Arctic 30 to return home to their families. The group was jailed several weeks ago for boarding a vessel being used to explore for oil in the Arctic Circle. They were arrested after the owner of the ship, the Shell Oil company, requested the help of the Russian authorities, who sent in commandos to detain the protestors. Although they originally faced lengthy jail terms for piracy, all 30 have now been either released or freed on bail.
The move comes at a difficult time for the Putin regime as it faces increasing pressure over its human rights record. Russia is hosting the Winter Olympics in Sochi, and the 2018 FIFA World Cup will also be held in the country. Although these events are seen by the Kremlin as a chance to showcase a revitalised, modern Russia, the country has drawn international condemnation over a range of issues, most recently a law that forbids the “promotion” to minors of homosexuality.
The law provoked outrage throughout the world, and the White House recently announced that neither President Obama, the First Lady, the Vice-President or any former president will attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics. However, President Obama has said he will send Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow to represent him. Both are openly gay former athletes.