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Russia

Medvedev dampens amnesty hopes for Khodorkovsky, Pussy Riot

Protest in support of Pussy Riot Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev hinted yesterday that former Yukos oil company chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky would not be freed under an amnesty President Vladimir Putin is preparing, and a prosecutor said the jailed tycoon could face new charges.

The head of Putin’s human rights council said this week that Khodorkovsky and two women from the punk band Pussy Riot could benefit from the amnesty marking the anniversary of the adoption of Russia’s post-Soviet constitution in 1993.

But, without naming names, Medvedev said Russia should be careful about freeing people convicted of crimes like hooliganism – the charge in the Pussy Riot case – and theft, which was the indictment against Khodorkovsky.

“Our people really are not much inclined, for example, to conduct acts of amnesty for individuals involved in violent crimes, for individuals who committed crimes against society, including hooliganism,” Medvedev said in a TV interview.

Supporters say Khodorkovsky, arrested in 2003, was jailed to curb a political challenge to Putin, bring his oil assets under state control and send a signal to other tycoons to toe the line.

In the eyes of Kremlin critics at home and abroad, Khodorkovsky’s jailing is one of the biggest stains on the record of Putin, who was first elected president in 2000 and has not ruled out seeking another six-year term in 2018.

Khodorkovsky is due for release in August but some activists doubt he will walk free while Putin is in power. The authorities continue to investigate dealings at now-defunct Yukos, prompting frequent speculation he could face new charges.

Deputy Prosecutor-General Alexander Zvyagintsev said several cases involving Khodorkovsky were being pursued and had “good prospects for going to court,” Interfax news agency reported.

Khodorkovsky was convicted in 2005 and again in 2010, prompting accusations that Russia has tried him twice for the same activities. A third trial would badly damage Russia’s image unless there was iron-clad evidence of wrongdoing.

The Interfax news agency said authorities were investigating suspicions of the laundering of more than $10bn and the possible use of laundered money to change Russian legislation – an apparent reference to the funding of political parties or civil society groups.

Khodorkovsky and the jailed women from Pussy Riot are considered political prisoners by Kremlin opponents, but Medvedev said there were no political prisoners in Russia. Putin has repeatedly said the same thing.

Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina are serving two-year sentences for a “punk prayer” protest against Putin in Russia’s main cathedral that infuriated the Russian Orthodox Church and offended many believers. They are due for release in March.

Western governments have called the punishment excessive and Kremlin opponents saw their trial as part of a clampdown on dissent during Putin’s third presidential term, from May 2012.

While Medvedev suggested Russians convicted of hooliganism should not expect to be freed in an amnesty, both Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina have young children, which officials have suggested could be a factor in the decision.

Also charged with hooliganism are 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists arrested for a protest against Arctic oil drilling, after some tried to scale Russia’s first offshore oil platform in the region in September.

All 30, citizens of 18 countries, are out on bail but remain in Russia. They face up to seven years in prison if convicted.


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