Jailed Pussy Riot members may go free

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AP

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, foreground right, seen in this July 26, 2013 file photo. Tolokonnikova says she is beginning a hunger strike to protest harsh working conditions and threats to her life.

 Moscow - The Russian parliament on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a wide-ranging amnesty which could free the imprisoned members of the Pussy Riot punk band as early as this week. The lower house of parliament, or State Duma, unanimously passed the amnesty act in its first reading, Russian news agencies reported.

An amended version is to be voted in a final, second, reading on Wednesday, the Duma noted on its website. Irina Khrunova, the lawyer for imprisoned Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, said that if the amnesty is passed and published by Thursday, her clients could walk out of prison the same day.

“If everything goes according to plan, they will be freed immediately,” she told dpa. Tolokonnikova's husband, Pyotr Verzilov, said on Twitter that prison authorities have said that Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina would be released immediately.

The Russian Federal Prison Service refused to comment on a possible release dates. “This was just the first reading,” spokeswoman Natalya Bystritskaya told dpa.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina are serving two-year sentences for performing a political protest song in a Moscow church. They are due to be released in March. Tolokonnikova was brought to a prison hospital in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk last month after going on hunger strike in her original prison colony in Mordovia.

Prison authorities said this week that she would serve her remaining sentence in Krasnoyarsk. The amnesty was submitted by President Vladimir Putin earlier this month, officially to mark the 20 years' anniversary of the Russian constitution. Russian Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said last week that up to 22 000 prisoners could be freed under the amnesty.

However, a senior Duma lawmaker, Pavel Krasheninnikov, said on Tuesday that about 10 000 would be freed. The amnesty would not lead to the release of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, nor would it affect the verdict against opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Khodorkovsky is serving an 11-year jail sentence for tax evasion and embezzlement until next year. Navalny was given a suspended five-year sentence for embezzlement this summer. - Sapa-dpa


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