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Human Rights Defenders Welcome Economic Crime Amnesty Proposal

MOSCOW. May 12 (Interfax) - Russia's leading human rights defenders have supported the initiative of three State Duma factions - A Just Russia, the Communist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party - to grant amnesty to economic crime convicts.

"That is a wonderful idea. Our prisons are packed," the head of Russia's oldest human rights organization, the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lyudmila Alexeyeva told Interfax.

"Let at least the State Duma alleviate the harshness and injustice of our courts. I am afraid, though, that United Russia may block the amnesty proposal," she said.

Even if the amnesty is announced, it will hardly apply to former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky and former Menatep Group head Platon Lebedev, Alexeyeva said.

Another veteran human rights defender, head of the Committee for Civil Assistance Svetlana Gannushkina shares the opinion. "That is a good thing. I support any amnesty," she told Interfax.

Gannushkina also called for amnestying female convicts who had served two-thirds of their prison time.

"In my opinion, the amnesty should apply to Khodorkovsky. However, he is accused of doing large damage to the country. I am afraid this amnesty will not apply to him. We think he did not do any damage," she said.

Members of the illegal armed units operating in the North Caucasus should also be amnestied, member of the Memorial Human Rights Center Board Alexander Cherkasov told Interfax.

"The Caucasus really needs an amnesty. A lot has been said about amnesties, but there have been no real amnesties of the participants in the conflict in the North Caucasus. People charged with attacks on servicemen and law enforcers (Article 317 of the Russian Criminal Code) have never been amnestied. It is possible to amnesty the conflict participants only on somebody's personal guarantee, which means they will stay hooked. This is a mechanism reproducing the conflict," Cherkasov said.

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