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New amnesty for prisoners could free Arctic 30 activists

New bill could see Arctic 30 and Pussy Riot walk free

Russia passed an amnesty Bill yesterday that could see the Arctic 30 Greenpeace activists and protest group Pussy Riot walk free.

The Duma unanimously declared the amnesty to mark the 20th anniversary of Russia's constitution and it is expected to free about 2,000 people.

It will apply to under-18s, women with small children, pregnant women, pensioners, disabled people, those involved in clearing up the Chernobyl disaster and the military - if the charges were non-violent and the sentence less than five years.

An earlier draft excluded those still facing trial, but MPs changed the Bill so it will now apply to the 30 Greenpeace activists hauled before the courts on hooliganism charges for a non-violent protest against Arctic drilling.

Greenpeace said that it hopes that the amnesty will allow foreign crew members to get exit visas and leave Russia.

"The Arctic 30 now hope they can spend Christmas at home," said spokesman Aaron Gray-Block. "But it is too early to say."

Authorities have six months to carry out the amnesty so it may not be over that quickly.

The legislation was also likely to free Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, who were jailed for a musical anti-Kremlin protest at Moscow's main cathedral.

It is also expected to apply to some of those facing "mass rioting" charges for taking part in the Bolotnaya Square protest in 2012.

However, it will not cover oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, cause celebre of the liberals opposed to President Vladimir Putin.

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