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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cold Comfort For Imprisoned Entrepreneurs

The Society for the Defense of Convicted Entrepreneurs has appealed to the judicial, legislative and executive powers for an immediate amnesty for entrepreneurs who have been convicted for their enterprise and private initiative, that is for doing what millions of Russian citizens are doing today. Moreover, the appeal said, repressions in the sphere of business continue even today, since many norms of the old totalitarian regime persist in Russian criminal legislation. Without their abolition, market reforms are simply impossible.

In the current Criminal Code, set down at the start of the 1960s, there remains a statute on "crimes against socialist property", under which sentences were always particularly harsh, prosecution of hard-currency operations has also not been repealed.

According to data given by the chairman of the Society, Vladimir Sokirko, there are 25, 000 to 30, 000 prisoners currently in Russian jails whose greatest crime is their enterprise.

In the first two years of its existence, this small noncommercial organization was able to have the verdicts set aside or changed in 35 cases.

This is a big achievement for the Society, but compared to the number of entrepreneurs in jail it is, of course, a drop in the bucket. Therefore the chief task of the Society is to secure a review of repressive anti-market criminal legislation.

Last autumn President Yeltsin put before parliament a draft of a new criminal code that had been prepared by the Ministry of Justice.

However, the draft was unanimously rejected by the Supreme Soviet's Committee for Legislation. Experts concluded that the draft, put together by the Ministry of Justice, preserved many legal stereotypes of the Communist regime. The parliamentary committee, which has been able to attract progressive lawyers, is preparing an alternative draft of criminal and civil codes. It is expected that these drafts will be ready by March of this year.

The action ot ihe parliamentary Committee for Legislation is being held up by the fact that the conservative draft of the Ministry of Justice has been signed by the president, which probably indicates the closeness of Justice Minister Nikolai Fedorov to Yeltsin.

The minister himself, a well-known democrat but not a very experienced jurist, has probably come under the influence of the old ministry bureaucracy.

While the jurists are arguing whose draft is more progressive, thousands of enterprising people are in jail. It was socialism that turned economic initiative into a crime, that drove it into the shadow. Socialism is no longer with us, but the "shadow" still lingers over many people.