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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pardons Commission Formed at Last

The Moscow pardons commission has finally been formed -- and the 15-member team charged with considering early releases for the city's prisoners is packed with City Hall officials and other loyalists of Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

Luzhkov signed the relevant decree forming the commission March 6, almost a week after his self-imposed deadline of March 1, and the document was released this week.

The commission is led by former Moscow Deputy Mayor Boris Nikolsky and includes two top City Hall officials, a deputy of the Moscow City Duma, the chief of the Moscow trade union, a representative from the city's branch of the Justice Ministry and the heads of three Moscow-based scientific research institutions.

Other members include the abbot of the Danilov Monastery, Archimandrite Alexy Polikarpov; Natalya Seleznyova, an actress from the Satire Theater; and Yegor Yakovlev, editor of the liberal Obshchaya Gazeta newspaper.

The creation of the commission is in line with the Kremlin's Dec. 28 order disbanding the Presidential Pardons Commission -- which was headed by respected writer Anatoly Pristavkin -- and calling for the creation of similar bodies in all 89 regions. The pardons commissions are to submit their recommendations to the president, who has the sole authority to grant pardons under the Constitution.

Luzhkov named Nikolsky to head the commission Feb. 15, but the other members were not known until Wednesday. Nikolsky's appointment raised concern among human rights activists. They questioned whether the presence of Nikolsky -- who participated in ordering a violent crackdown on unarmed civilians in Tbilisi in 1989 -- would weaken the moral authority of the commission.

The addition of more Luzhkov loyalists suggests that the humanistic spirit that dominated the work of Pristavkin's commission will be replaced by bureaucratic methodology, said Vladimir Pribylovsky of the Panorama think tank.

"Pristavkin's commission was full of enthusiastic public authorities, while the city's commission is staffed with bureaucrats and, I believe, with people who are not very interested in their pardons assignment," he said. "Moreover, bureaucrats will bring their methodology to the work of the commission -- everything will be decided by the officials, who will then offer the other commission members already prepared documents to sign."

The only commission member who could be reached by late Wednesday afternoon was Archimandrite Alexy, and he refused to comment.

"I know nothing about my future responsibilities, work schedule or the other commission members," he said.

Moskovsky Komsomolets reported Wednesday that Seleznyova had known nothing about being on the board until reporters told her.

According to the mayor's decree, all organizational and operational expenses of the commission will be covered by City Hall, and the members will work for free.

According to the decree, a copy of which was obtained by The Moscow Times, the commission will start considering pardons as soon as it starts receiving applications from inmates.

"We expect it will start by the end of March," said a spokeswoman for the Moscow branch of the Justice Ministry.