Dec 23 2013, 4:47pm CST | by Forbes
This past week, Russian president Vladimir Putin freed several high-profile prisoners: Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an oil magnate who spent 10 years behind bars, and two Pussy Riot girls, Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who were imprisoned for singing an anti-Putin “punk prayer” in 2012.
The release of political prisoners in Russia has been seen widely as a PR stunt ahead of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Russia has been criticized a lot for its anti-gay law and for other human rights abuses. For the first time in history the United Stated is sending to the Games a diverse delegation that consists of LGBT athletes.
Some analysts even connect Putin’s move with the mass people’s uprising in Ukraine—that the Russian president is trying to untighten the screws and soften his hand in order to prevent anti-government riots in his own country.
The world can only guess what the true reason for Putin’s generosity is, as it is hard to see it as a simple humanitarian act. One thing is obvious to the West, as well as to many people in Russia: his move proves that he’s a Tzar who stands above the law.
Russian president decides who goes to prison and when; as well as who and when to pardon. Not the courts and legal system. The legal system need only back up his decisions and write up the necessary documents to make them a reality.
Ten years ago a Russian court sent Khodorkovsky to prison. Back in 2003, Khodorkovsky, an oil tycoon, backed an opposition party seen by Putin as a threat. In 2005 he was convicted of fraud and tax evasion. His case was seen as political persecution and criticized by the West.
Pussy Riot was another loud case that attracted international attention. Almost two years ago a few young girls, members of a punk-band and civil rights group called Pussy Riot, appeared in Moscow’s largest Cathedral and sang an anti-Putin prayer. They were convicted on charges of hooliganism. Two of the girls, Tolokonnikova and Alekhina, were sent to prison. Both women haven’t seen their small children for more than a year. The Russian church and government – tied together very closely – showed the world that no one can insult the church values.
Putin’s amnesty, no doubt, made a lot of people happy and gave the political prisoners the opportunity to celebrate the holidays with their families. On some level it may temporarily take the heat off of Russia and its of human rights abuses.
However, the Russian president once again demonstrated to the entire world that Russia’s judicial system is far from independent. And without the independence of courts, no modernization, no progress, no society based on rule of law is possible. Hopefully, with people like Khodorkovsky and social activists like Pussy Riot free once more, there is a chance that the liberalization of the society will continue. There are still many political prisoners behind the bars in Russia.
Source: Forbes Business
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