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Friday, June 18, 1999 Published at 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK

World: Europe

Thousands of Russian prisoners to go free

The ruling is an attempt to humanise prison conditions

Tens of thousands of Russian prisoners are to be released as part of widescale reforms aimed at improving conditions in the country's overcrowded and disease-ridden prisons.

Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, unanimously passed a bill on Friday bestowing amnesty on some 94,000 prisoners - one-tenth of the total prison population.

Inmates to be released under the amnesty include:

  • prisoners convicted of non-violent crimes
  • disabled prisoners
  • those suffering from tuberculosis
  • men over the age of 60
  • women over the age of 55
  • pregnant women
  • women with young children
  • women serving first convictions for premeditated crimes for terms of up to five years
  • minors serving the same length of term.

Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov said those to be released did not pose a danger to society.

He said earlier this month that the bill, part of a government prison reform plan, would apply to up to 100,000 convicts and suspects.

Mr Krasheninnikov said Russia's prison population could be halved by the end of next year in an attempt to humanise conditions in prisons and labour camps.

Correspondents say Russian prisons often hold three times the number of people they are designed for, forcing inmates to sleep in shifts, while an estimated 100,000 prisoners suffer from tuberculosis because of overcrowding.

Bill unopposed

The Duma passed the bill simultaneously in its second and third readings by 400-0.

Unlike most bills, this particular ruling does not need the approval of President Boris Yeltsin or parliament's upper house. It comes into effect once published in the parliamentary newspaper and has to be carried out within the next six months.

Earlier in June, the Russian leader pardoned the remaining prisoners on death row as a means of exerting pressure on parliament to put a definitive end to capital punishment.

He issued a decree commuting the death sentences of the 716 prisoners to life or 25 years in prison.

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