Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 160

Russian president Boris Yeltsin is to urge parliament to declare an amnesty for 35,000 sick and elderly prisoners in a bid to reduce the numbers of prisoners in Russia’s jails. A further 60,000 minor offenders would have their terms reduced. Yeltsin’s amnesty would not apply to serious offenders or to those in pre-trial detention centers where, Russian and international monitors say, overcrowding is often even more serious than in regular prisons.

Prison overcrowding is one of Russia’s most entrenched human rights problems; in a report published in April, Amnesty International said it "amounted to torture." The latest Interior Ministry figures show 724,000 convicted prisoners are in Russian jails along with 269,000 suspects in pre-trial detention — a reported increase of some 50 percent since 1991. (Reuter, August 20) Improving prison conditions was one of the conditions put on Russia when it joined the Council of Europe in 1996 and the Russian government has in the past year made some efforts to reduce overcrowding, and promised to expedite the handing over of jails and camps from the control of the Interior Ministry to that of the Justice Ministry. However, these measures have not yet resulted in significant improvement, according to the International Helsinki Federation’s report for 1997.

Yeltsin Proclaims Success Though Primakov Fails to Free Russian Journalists Jailed in Belarus.