MOSCOW - Russia's parliament on Wednesday approved an amnesty law that could allow two jailed members of the punk-music group Pussy Riot to go free and pardon 30 people facing charges over a Greenpeace protest of Arctic oil drilling.
But human-rights activists complained that the bill unanimously approved by the State Duma, or lower house, is too narrow and will free only 2,000 to 5,000 inmates when it takes effect this week.
The amnesty was seen as an attempt to deflect criticism of Russia's human-rights record ahead of the Olympic Winter Games, which will take place in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
Concern about a Russian law prohibiting gay "propaganda" spurred calls for a boycott of the Games. In a pointed move, the United States announced this week that it is sending a delegation to the opening and closing ceremonies that includes two gay athletes. President Obama, however, will not attend.
The Russian amnesty applies to people jailed or detained for offensives punishable by no more than five years in prison. Among those who can be freed are mothers with young children, people who committed offenses as minors, have disabilities, or who served in hot spots with the Russian military.
Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were accused of hooliganism, an offense covered by the amnesty. Both also have young children. However, Alyokhina hinted this week that she might not want amnesty.
"Can I refuse to be amnestied?" she was quoted as saying in a tweet sent from the account of the Russian art collective Voina. "I have so much to do in the [labor] colony."
She and Tolokonnikova were sentenced to two years in prison for staging a "punk prayer" last year at a Moscow cathedral begging Mother Mary "to drive Putin away." Without amnesty, their terms would expire in March.
Denis Sinyakov, a well-known Russian freelance photographer who was covering the Greenpeace protest and was on the group's ice breaker when it was stormed by Russian commandos in September, also was not thrilled about the idea of receiving amnesty.
"I and my Greenpeace friends did nothing wrong and committed no crime," Sinyakov told the Los Angeles Times. "I think this is how the authorities are trying to get out of the uncomfortable situation they drove themselves into with their lawless action against us all."
New Railway Missile
Russia is developing a new intercontinental ballistic missile mounted on a railway car in a bid to counterbalance prospective U.S. weapons, a senior military officer said Wednesday.
Col. Gen. Sergei Karakayev, the chief of the military's Strategic Missile Forces, said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies that the new weapon will be much easier to camouflage than its predecessor. The Soviet-designed railway missiles were scrapped in 2005.
Karakayev said the Yars missile intended for the project is much lighter than the Soviet-built system and could be put inside a regular refrigerator car unlike its predecessor, which required a heavier and bigger car that could be detected by enemy intelligence.
"No matter how they tried to hide it, any expert would figure out that it wasn't a regular train," Karakayev said. - APEndText