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Last Updated:  Friday, 7 March, 2003, 16:39 GMT
Russia's prisoners sing for freedom
Russian prisoners
Prisoners from all over Russia have sent in demo tapes
Russian prison officials have promised the ultimate prize - freedom - to the winner of a contest to find the country's best singing prisoner.

Later this year, 20 jailhouse rockers will battle it out on stage for the title "Pop prisoner of the year".

Top pop stars will be on the jury and the winner's song will be released on cassette and video.

Of the 50 contestants selected so far for the qualifying rounds, one has been convicted of murder - a 27-year-old former singer at the Kazan conservatoire, Ruslan Anufriev.

Officials say he is being allowed to compete because he committed his crime in self-defence, and that serious criminals will usually be barred from taking part.

Emotion

All contestants in what the BBC's Steve Rosenberg describes as "Eurovision with handcuffs" will be accompanied on stage by a prison guard, just in case they decide to make a run for it.

Demonstration tapes on audio- and video-cassettes have already been flooding into the Justice Ministry from all over the country.

A prison official told the Moscow Times that competition organisers wanted songs that "open up the heart".

He said songs about prison life and the country's criminal subculture would be banned.




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