Putin could free Khodorkovsky, Pussy Riot in amnesty: rights adviser

Wed Dec 4, 2013 1:37pm EST
 
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By Alexei Anishchuk

NOVO-OGARYOVO, Russia (Reuters) - Vladimir Putin could free a former oil tycoon and members of the Pussy Riot band, all portrayed as political prisoners by domestic and foreign critics, under an amnesty expected by the end of the year, according to a Kremlin human rights adviser.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who supporters say was jailed to curb a political challenge to Putin, putting his oil assets in state hands, and two Pussy Riot inmates are due for release next year. But an early discharge could help improve Putin's image before he hosts the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in February.

Putin told his presidential human rights council in September to make suggestions for an amnesty to mark the 20th anniversary of Russia's post-Soviet constitution in December.

After meeting Putin, rights council head Mikhail Fedotov told reporters he believed Khodorkovsky and two jailed Pussy Riot members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, would be eligible for release under the amnesty.

"I think so," Fedotov told reporters after the meeting. "Those are non-violent crimes."

Putin has repeatedly denied anyone in Russia has been jailed for political reasons.

Former Yukos oil company chief Khodorkovsky has been in jail since his arrest in 2003 and was convicted of financial crimes in two trials. In the eyes of Kremlin critics at home and abroad, his jailing is one of the main black marks on the record of Putin, who has not ruled out seeking another six-year term as president in 2018.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with academics at the Moscow State University December 3, 2013. REUTERS/Mikhail Metzel/RIA Novosti/Kremlin