Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Disputing Putin's amnesty

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Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (right) and Maria Alekhina at a Moscow news conference.

IVAN SEKRETAREV / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Image

Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (right) and Maria Alekhina at a Moscow news conference.

As someone who has been following Russian politics for years and has taught a course on modern Russian history at McGill University, I would like to take issue with some statements in your Dec. 26 editorial Putin's ploy shows Russia has way to go.

I am no fan of Vladimir Putin, but his amnesty did not lead to the release "thousands of political prisoners," as you assert, simply because the actual number of political prisoners in Russia is far, far lower. The amnesty affected people from vulnerable groups (such as minors, senior citizens, disabled people and women with young children) who had been convicted of minor crimes.

The Russian human rights organization Memorial said there were a total of 70 political prisoners in Russia as of Oct. 30, including Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the members of Pussy Riot, and the Greenpeace protesters.

You assert the two amnestied members of Pussy Riot had been serving their two-year sentences in Siberia. While one (Nadezhda Tolokonnikova) was, the other (Maria Alekhina was serving hers in Nizhny Novgorod, in European Russia, more than 1,000 kilometres west of Siberia.

Perhaps the most frivolous statement you made was that "Putin can at least empty the gulags." Putin may have dictatorial tendencies, but he is no Stalin. The modern-day Russian prison system is not the Stalin-era gulag, where large numbers of prisoners perished. Equating the two trivializes the suffering of Stalin's victims.

-RASHED CHOWDHURY

Department of history

University of Manitoba

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 28, 2013 A16

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