MOSCOW, December 18 (RIA Novosti) – Russian lawmakers approved a sweeping amnesty law Wednesday that will open the way to pardons for jailed members of the Pussy Riot punk band and Greenpeace activists facing trial on hooliganism charges.
The amnesty initiated in early December to mark the 20th anniversary of the nation’s constitution will be applied to thousands of Russian prisoners – primarily retirees, invalids, women with children and pregnant women, and victims of the Chernobyl disaster.
The bill could also lead to the release of some activists currently facing prosecution over clashes with police at a rally in Moscow last year, ahead of Vladimir Putin’s inauguration for his third term as president.
Bailed British Greenpeace activist Alex Harris used the group’s Twitter account to express her reaction to the news.
"[To be honest], I'm feeling strange. A lot of relief to be going home, though we don't know when. It's a bit emotional, what a journey!" Harris said on Twitter. “Thoughts are with my [four] Russian friends for whom the amnesty brings uncertainty."
Lawmakers on Wednesday added several crimes to a list of serious offenses that would not be granted amnesty. Those included terrorism, abuse of power using violence and sexual coercion.
Two members of Pussy Riot are in the coming months due to complete two-year jail sentences handed down for staging an anti-Kremlin protest in a cathedral in 2012 that a Moscow court ruled was hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.
Both the women have young children and would therefore qualify for the amnesty.
The bill had initially stated that amnesty could only be granted after a sentence had been passed, which would have excluded the Greenpeace detainees. The group of 28 activists and two journalists, who were detained in September while mounting a protest against oil drilling in the ecologically sensitive Arctic Sea, have been released on bail and are still to go on trial on hooliganism charges.
With the amnesty also extended to individuals on trial, however, the group may be free from prosecution and its foreign members be allowed to return home.
Notable figures not expected to benefit from the amnesty, however, include jailed former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and virulently anti-Kremlin politician Alexei Navalny, who was convicted to a five-year suspended sentence on embezzlement charges earlier this year.
Updates with final approval of amnesty, Adds quote.