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Russian Supreme Court advises against jailing people accused of minor offenses due to COVID-19 pandemic

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the Russian Supreme Court has issued a recommendation advising judges to only detain people suspected or accused of non-serious crimes in exceptional cases. 

This recommendation appeared in a Supreme Court review of judicial practices, in connection with the implementation of legislation and measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

According to official data from the end of April, 271 Federal Penitentiary Service employees have been diagnosed with the coronavirus infection, in addition to 40 other people in the prison system accused or convicted of crimes.

Human rights defenders in Russia have been calling for a general amnesty, in order to reduce the burden on pre-trial detention centers during the coronavirus pandemic. The Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights has also advocated for inmates from pre-trial detention centers being transferred to house arrest. 

  • In mid-April, Federal Penitentiary Service director Alexander Kalashnikov sent a letter to the head of the Russian Supreme Court, Vyacheslav Lebedev, urging him not to place people charged with mid-level and minor crimes under arrest given the coronavirus outbreak.
  • The director of the Institute of Human Rights, Valentin Gefter (who also sits on the president’s Human Rights Council) and former Constitutional Court judge Tamara Morshchakova have prepared a draft resolution about an amnesty for the State Duma. Gefter told RBC that 30,000 people currently in jail could have their restrictions altered as part of the proposed amnesty linked to the coronavirus outbreak. 
  • On April 21, lawmaker Pavel Krasheninnikov, who chairs the Duma’s State Building and Legislative Committee, announced that federal lawmakers are not planning to adopt legislation on a general amnesty to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the USSR’s victory in World War II. A Victory Day amnesty has traditionally been repeated since the mid-1990s.
  • The parents of the suspects convicted in the Penza Network case have also asked that their children be released from pre-trial detention and placed under house arrest due to the threat of COVID-19.