Medvedev pardons one of 32 "political prisoners"

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 23, 2012 12:14 PM
Medvedev pardons one of 32 "political prisoners"

By Alexei Anishchuk

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday pardoned a man on a list of 32 people who opposition activists consider political prisoners, but gave no clue whether he might free others in his last two weeks in the Kremlin.

Medvedev, who will be replaced as president by Vladimir Putin on May 7, signed a decree pardoning Sergei Mokhnatkin, 58, and 13 others. The Kremlin said on its website that the decision was "guided by the principles of humanity".

None of the others pardoned was on the list of 32 "political prisoners", including former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, submitted to Medvedev in February by opposition politicians who had demanded their release during large street protests.

"The very fact that this has happened is positive, but ... one is not a lot; he (Medvedev) should pardon all the people on this list," Boris Nemtsov, a prominent opposition leader and former deputy prime minister, told Reuters by telephone.

The Kremlin gave no reason for the pardons and said nothing about the others on the list. Khodorkovsky's supporters say is the victim of a Kremlin-driven campaign of punishment for perceived challenges to Putin.

Mokhnatkin was sentenced to 2-1/2 years in prison on charges of violence against a police officer during an opposition rally in December 2009. He denied the charges, saying he had been defending a woman and not even attending the rally.

His jailing was seen by Kremlin opponents as an example of unjust law enforcement practices and a overly harsh approach to street protests, which are frequently broken up by police when they are held without prior permission from the authorities.

Yuri Shmidt, one of Khodorkovsky's lawyers, said he had expected one or two people from the list to be pardoned.

"This is pure show. It does not serve as a signal to Khordorkovsky at all because if the authorities had wanted to free him they would have long since found a way to do it and have done it," he said.

Medvedev, who was seen as the junior partner to Putin after the older man steered him into office in 2008, was accused by critics of failing to strengthen the justice system and improve the rule of law despite voicing ambitious plans to do so.

For liberals who hoped Medvedev's term would bring reform of the courts, one of the biggest disappointments was Khodorkovsky's second conviction, in 2010, on theft and money laundering charges he dismissed as absurd.

The Kremlin denies there are political prisoners in Russia, but Medvedev had asked prosecutors to look into the legality of 32 criminal cases, including Khodorkovsky's, on the basis of requests from the opposition and his Human Rights Council.

Unlike Mokhnatkin, Khodorkovsky has not asked for a pardon, which many state officials say requires an admission of guilt. Many lawyers and rights activists argue that the president can pardon someone without either a request or an admission of guilt.

Medvedev, whom Putin has said he will name prime minister after his inauguration, has indicated he will not grant a pardon anyone who has not requested one, but has not spelled out his position on admission of guilt.

(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Kevin Liffey)