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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Regions Prepare to Take Up Pardons

Regions this week began forming pardon commissions to replace the Presidential Pardons Commission disbanded by President Vladimir Putin that heard appeals from prisoners.

A pardons commission met for the first time in Saratov on Tuesday, a day after the region's governor, Dmitry Ayatskov, signed the necessary decree, Interfax reported.

Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov signed off on a pardons commission for his republic Wednesday, State Duma Deputy Mikhail Bugera said Thursday.

Bugera, a Bashkir member of the Fatherland faction, said at a news conference that such commissions will sprout up elsewhere over the next few weeks and that all regions should have commissions by early February.

Regions were told to set up their own pardons commissions under the Dec. 28 Kremlin order disbanding the Presidential Pardons Commission headed by well-known writer Anatoly Pristavkin.

The regional commissions are to offer their recommendations to the president, the only person under the Constitution who can issue pardons. The presidential envoys in the seven super regions are to supervise the commissions. It was unclear Thursday what their supervisory capacities would be.

Pristavkin remains at work as a newly appointed aide to Putin.

On Thursday, Putin agreed to a proposal from Pristavkin and the head of a new Kremlin department on pardons, Robert Tsivilyov, to pardon all imprisoned mothers regardless of their crime, Interfax reported. The mothers' cases will be reviewed by the newly established commissions.

It was not clear whether the pardons will apply to all female convicts with children or only to those who gave birth in prison. The Justice Ministry said 493 children aged 3 and under who were born behind bars were living with their mothers in prisons as of November.

The Duma will have to give its approval to the proposal.

At the news conference, Bugera defended the new pardons commissions and said that at a regional level they will be better able to review each case.

"It is a measure that builds up civil society in the country," he said. "Rather than having one commission in Moscow as a ray of light in a kingdom of darkness, we will have many little lamps springing up around the country that will make our society brighter."

Leonid Dubrovitsky, who is in charge of supervising the penal system in the office of Russia's human rights ombudsman, Oleg Mironov, said it is too early to judge how effective the commissions will be since they have not yet started work.

The 15-member commission in Saratov is chaired by the dean of the city's law school, Fyodor Grigoryev, and includes the dean of the university's linguistics department, the region's trade-union boss and the head of the region's branch of the Russian Fine Arts Academy, Interfax reported. It did not say which government and judicial officials are also members.

In Bashkortostan, the commission will be chaired by the head of the region's legislation, Konstantin Tolkachev, who is a former Interior Ministry official and also serves as dean of Ufa's law institute. The commission includes the republic's police and prison chiefs, the head of the president's law department, two legislature deputies, the head of the constitutional court and civil servants, Bugera said.

Natalia Yakovleva, coordinator of the Public Center for Judicial Reform, a human rights group, said placing prison officials on commissions was dangerous because they would not be likely to agree to pardons.

Prominent Moscow priest Alexander Borisov, a former member of Pristavkin's commission, said that putting the responsibility of pardons in regional hands was risky but that having the commissions was of the utmost importance.

"I think that when these people begin to work they will see the general situation and understand that one must pardon and pardon a lot," Borisov said.