Russia parliament approves amnesty for prisoners
Russian MPs have backed an amnesty that may include some of the country's best-known prisoners including Pussy Riot and the Greenpeace Arctic protesters.
The State Duma in Moscow unanimously approved the law at its third reading and it is expected to come into force within days.
It covers at least 20,000 prisoners, including minors, invalids, veterans, pregnant women, and mothers.
Charges against 30 people arrested on a Greenpeace ship may be dropped.
The 30 mostly foreign nationals were recently released from custody but not allowed to leave Russia.
The amnesty has been approved as part of celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the adoption of Russian constitution. It will come into effect immediately after publication in the official Gazette, probably as early as Thursday.
The amnesty does not cover people convicted of paedophilia or terrorism.
It seems to cover the crew of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, as well as the members of the Pussy Riot band. Also covered by the amnesty are the participants of mass demonstrations in Moscow accused of "hooliganism".
Policemen sentenced for the use of torture will be freed as well. All together about 25,000 people should be freed.
Amnesties are unusual in Russian legal practice, and consequently it is not clear when and how people will be freed.
Two members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, were jailed in 2012 for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after performing an anti-Kremlin protest song in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.
They are due to be released three months from now in any case.
Others who may be freed include some, but not all, of the political protesters arrested during clashes with police after Vladimir Putin's inauguration as Russian president for a third term last year.
One prisoner who will not be affected by the amnesty is former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is due for release next August after serving a reduced sentence for theft.
It is also unlikely that opposition leader Alexei Navalny will have his recent five-year suspended sentence for theft quashed.
The amnesty marks the 20th anniversary of Russia's post-Soviet constitution. It will take effect once it is published but the releases are expected to take place over six months.