Russia PM: No amnesty for political prisoners

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MOSCOW (AP) - Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev hinted Friday that members of the punk band Pussy Riot, former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and others widely referred to as political prisoners will not be freed in Russia's upcoming amnesty.

The bill granting long-awaited amnesty for thousands of Russian prisoners is expected to be sent to parliament in the coming days. But the lawmakers and President Vladimir Putin have yet to fine-tune its details, determining who will be covered by the biggest amnesty in 20 years.

Rights organizations describe Pussy Riot, Khodorkovsky and dozens of people charged with violent rioting at last year's opposition protest in Moscow's Bolotnaya Square as political prisoners.

Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, has already spent 10 years in prison on charges of tax evasion and embezzlement. Two of the three members of Pussy Riot convicted of hooliganism for an impromptu protest in Russia's main cathedral are now serving two-year prison terms.

Medvedev said in a television interview Friday that the government should take into account public opinion when deciding who will be covered by the amnesty.

"Our people are not inclined to provide amnesty to those who committed violent crimes, those who committed crimes against society, including hooliganism," Medvedev said. "People are not inclined to grant amnesty to people who committed state crimes, major embezzlement."

Russian rights advocates have urged the Kremlin to free political prisoners, but Medvedev denied that Russia has any. He said those often called political prisoners are "lucky enough to get in the limelight," but insisted that "they are not serving time for their political views." "They are in prison or in jail because they violated public order," he declared.

A senior prosecutor told the Interfax news agency in an interview published Friday that Khodorkovsky may face a third trial. Alexander Zvyagintsev, deputy prosecutor general, said there are "several criminal cases" being investigated which "have good chances for court proceedings."

Those also not expected to receive amnesty include 12 people now on trial on charges of rioting and assaulting police officers during an anti-government protest in Moscow last year. They have been in jail for a year now and face eight years in prison, even though the evidence against them is scarce. One man is accused of throwing a lemon at a policeman.

At least a dozen more people face similar charges as part of a separate inquiry.

Late Friday afternoon, protesters gathered outside the State Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, to urge legislators to grant amnesty to the Bolotnaya Square defendants. Several of the demonstrators were detained, Russian news agencies reported.

In 1994, the State Duma granted amnesty to dozens of then-President Boris Yeltsin's opponents who had been jailed after the 1993 political standoff that ended in a military takeover of parliament.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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