[JURIST] The Russia Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights urged amnesty for economic crimes in a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile; JURIST news archive] Tuesday that would include amnesty for the crimes of former Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive]. Medvedev was receptive [RIA Novosti report] to the granting amnesties with the Council in the South Caucasus city of Nalchik, but the issue of amnesty is the authority of the State Duma [official website, in Russian]. The Council head said the amnesties would not exclude certain criminals convicted under the crimes, thus freeing Khodorkovsky, who was once CEO of Yukos Oil [JURIST news archive] and one of the richest men in Russia. He has served half of a 13-year sentence for fraud, theft and money laundering along with his business partner Platon Lebedev [defense website; JURIST news archive], who is serving time for similar charges. At the meeting Medvedev told the council [statement, text]:
Amnesties, of course, are something that come under the State Duma's powers, although ultimately, the decision to grant an amnesty is a reflection of the authorities' policy overall. We should look at which categories an amnesty would apply to. But there is absolutely no ignoring that our criminal law, after decades of inertia, is finally changing and advancing. My hope is simply that you will all do more to help me in this work, help me with your advice and the positions you take.But many say the amnesty is unlikely [Bloomberg report] since it would boost Medvedev at the expense of former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [official website] who will likely run against Medvedev in the 2012 election. During the meeting, the Council also said that the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in pre-trial was the result of criminal acts [JURIST report], differing from the previous explanation that had blamed prison doctors.
Medvedev has been trying to play the role of reformer to separate himself from Putin heading into the 2012 elections. A former lawyer, he has pushed for legal reform expressing the need for Russia to improve its legal system to make a better commitment to the rule of law. In December 2008, Medvedev's first year in office, he proposed Russian courts become more transparent [JURIST report] in order to restore faith in the justice system and prevent people from turning to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website]. Speaking at the seventh All-Russian Congress of Judges, Medvedev said that the ECHR cannot and should not replace Russian courts. Russia is the source of more applications to the ECHR than any other country. Medvedev proposed measures to improve the quality of judges and provide broader access to court documents. He encouraged the congress to discuss his concerns and make concrete proposals. In June 2008, Medvedev said he was committed to improving Russia's human rights record and enforcing the rule of law, reiterating pledges he made at his May inauguration [JURIST reports]. Medvedev has also promised top legal officials he would tackle corruption and intimidation in the Russian judicial system [JURIST report], calling for reforms to better train and support judges.