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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Long wait ahead for prisoners of an earlier era

Almost five months after President Boris Yeltsin of Russia issued a decree legalizing private trade, an estimated 30, 000 people remain in jail for economic crimes that are now legal.


Justice for these entrepreneurial prisoners - persecuted by communists and forgotten by capitalists-will not come soon, officials say.


On Thursday, the Russian parliament refused to approve the draft of a general amnesty bill to free such prisoners and sent it back to be "finalized".


According to some officials, the bill will be watered down under pressure from some hard-line communist deputies.


Until late January, speculation was a crime punishable under Soviet law. In March, The Moscow Times interviewed several women who are still serving six- to nine-year sentences for such crimes at Prison Camp No. 5,


Ordinary Regime, about an hour outside Moscow.


One of them, Alevtina Gulyolova, 51, has been serving a seven-and-a-half-year sentence since 1986 for selling 10 pairs of Yugoslav underwear for a profit of 60 rubles and other inexpensive items. The general amnesty bill calls for all economic crime cases to be reviswed separately. This is because some prisoners convicted for speculation are also serving sentences for deeds that are still illegal,


like fraud.


Some academics and government critics say that until these early free-market proponents are freed, all talk of reform will ring hollow.


"This reflects poorly on democratic forces", said Alexander Yakovlev, dean of criminology at the Institute of Law and Government.


"The People's Deputies are anxious to put themselves against the visible culprits, people selling goods", he said. "The deputies should be more responsible to the future instead of the unenlightened public".


Valentin Stepankov, Russia's prosecutor general, says that reform will come - it will just take time.


"When we decided to start serious economic reform and to reconstruct our economic system, we had to think about our attitude towards people in jail for economic crimes", Stepankov said, "We have to change our criminal law - but it's a very difficult problem and we're still working on it".