Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 15

Saratov oblast on the Volga, which last year became the first Russian region to legalize the free sale of agricultural land, has other innovations up its sleeve. Governor Dmitry Ayatskov told NTV on December 24 that the oblast intends to abolish the notorious "sobering-up stations" where drunks are forcibly incarcerated. Ayatskov said they are to be replaced by a new service that will, for a compulsory fee, transport those in an inebriated condition back home safely. The chairman of the oblast commission on human rights, Aleksandr Lando, says the change is necessary because sobering-up stations violate Article 22 of the Russian constitution by depriving citizens of their liberty without a court order. The Monitor’s correspondent in Saratov says local people welcome the idea of abolishing the nasty lock-ups. But human rights activists are worried about the "fee" to be charged for transport, saying it is really a covert fine. Rumor says the "fee" will be about 100 rubles ($16) — a lot of money for many people. It is also unclear what right accused offenders will have to appeal against imposition of the "fee."

Meanwhile, Saratov’s human rights commission is drafting an oblast law that would legalize prostitution. Chairman Lando told a press conference on January 9 that there are an estimated 150 call-girl operations and an unknown number of people working as prostitutes in the region. Under Russia’s new Criminal Code, procuring prostitutes is no longer a crime. But Lando said a law on prostitution would enable the oblast authorities to protect young people from exploitation and to deal more effectively with the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases. The Monitor’s correspondent says this proposal is not at all popular among the general public. Human rights activists suspect that the authorities’ main motive is to tax the sex trade and bring more money into the regional budget. Our correspondent says the idea of legalizing prostitution comes as a surprise in light of the fact that, citing moral grounds, the Saratov Oblast Duma recently banned local newspapers from carrying advertisements that offer sexual services for commercial gain. Human rights activists say the ban violates federal legislation on the press.

Commission Formed to Tackle Japanese-Russian Peace Treaty.