In a surprise announcement during his annual press conference on Thursday, Russian president Vladimir Putin said that he will pardon at least 20,000 prisoners, including two members of the Pussy Riot punk band, detained Greenpeace activists, and former billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
The two pussy riot members were sentenced to two years in prison in 2012 amid international outcry after participating and singing in a mass protest criticizing Putin. They have served about half of their sentenced term. Members of a Greenpeace ship were taken into custody after protesting on a Russian oil rig in the Arctic Ocean.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, formerly Russia’s richest man, has been in jail for ten years on charges of tax evasion and embezzlement. He was set to be released in August 2014, but will be granted a requested pardon because his mother is in ill health, Putin said. The circumstances surrounding the pardon are far from clear. As AFP reports:
Putin’s announcement caught Khodorkovsky’s legal team and family off guard.
“Until the legal team can meet with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, all previously given statements by his lawyers regarding him asking for a pardon should be considered invalid,” said a statement on the Khodorkovsky website.
Khodorkovsky’s mother Marina was quoted as saying that she also was not aware of her son’s request but added that she supported “fully and completely” any of his decisions.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told AFP that the request had been personally “signed” by Khodorkovsky. . .
Khodorkovsky has repeatedly indicated that he would not ask Putin for a pardon because that would be tantamount to admitting his guilt.
Putin’s announcement comes on the heels of the announcements by the German, French, and American governments that each of their heads of state would not be attending the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia in response to Russia’s recently-passed law, aimed at homosexuals, banning the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.” The United States also decided to send openly gay athletes to the games’ opening ceremony.