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Hopes fade for Pussy Riot amnesty

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has hinted that members of punk band Pussy Riot, former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and others widely referred to as political prisoners will not be freed in an upcoming amnesty.

The bill granting long-awaited amnesty for thousands of Russian prisoners is expected to be sent to the Russian parliament in the coming days.

But the parliament and President Vladimir Putin have yet to fine-tune its details, determining who will be covered by the biggest amnesty in 20 years.

Rights organisations describe Pussy Riot, Mr Khodorkovsky and dozens charged with violent rioting at last year's opposition protest at Bolotnaya Square as political prisoners.

Mr 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 punk band Pussy Riot convicted of hooliganism for an impromptu protest in Russia's main cathedral are now serving two years in prison.

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

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

Those also not expected to see amnesty include 12 people now on trial on charges of rioting and assaulting police officers at 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 face similar charges as part of a separate inquiry.

Russian rights advocates have urged the Kremlin to free political prisoners in order to show its openness to opposition in society. But when asked by a TV host if the Kremlin should perhaps make an example and free the country's political prisoners, Mr Medvedev denied that Russia has any.

He said those often called political prisoners are "lucky enough to get in the limelight" despite their opposition views.

"They are not serving time for their political views. They are in prison or in jail because they violated public order," he declared.

In 1994, then-President Boris Yeltsin granted amnesty to dozens of his opponents who were jailed after the 1993 political stand-off that ended in a military takeover of the Russian parliament.

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