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A Shortage of Humanitarian Sympathy

An article from the St. Petersburg Times reports that the number of prisoners granted pardons and paroles has sharply dropped off under Vladimir Putin, yet fails to identify exactly which experts have voiced doubts about Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s lawful eligibility and entitlement to parole. Simply put, he should be let out under the rights and processes afforded to him under Russian law.

Under Yeltsin between 700 and 800 prisoners were granted pardons each year, but in the Putin-Medvedev era the process has come to a standstill. The regional commissions produce decisions but then the cases have to receive the blessing of a regional governor and then move on to — and get stuck in — Moscow. Results have been discouraging. Forty-two people were pardoned in 2005, and only 9 in 2006.

Granting pardons is a constitutional duty that exerts a form of control over the country’s judicial system. The human aspect of each case considered for a pardon plays an important role. The authorities — and increasingly the public — appear to be in a state of denial of the significance of this role.A pardon commission does not aim to review verdicts handed down by the courts but, rather, estimates the danger that a prisoner represents to society if he or she is released.However, Russia’s jails remain overloaded and some experts say that a year in a Russian jail is the equivalent of two or three years in jail abroad.“Nearly 90 percent of people released from jail come out with tuberculosis, which they caught in prison,” said Tatyana Linyova, a doctor with the Red Cross in Russia.“One person whose appeal we supported had already served nine years of a 14-year term,” said St. Petersburg writer Mikhail Kurayev, a member of the local pardon commission.“When I met him, I saw someone in a condition I would call ‘social and spiritual anabiosis;’ someone living an artificial life. Punishment is about correcting a personality. It is not about revenge,” Kurayev said.