The Soviet Union today granted an amnesty to possibly thousands of common criminals as part of its celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. The amnesty, to take effect immediately, does not apply to jailed dissidents or other "prisoners of conscience."
The amnesty was announced early today by Tass, the official Soviet news agency which said it was granted by decree of the presidium of the Supreme Soviet. The move comes after months of speculation here and abroad about the possibility of such a gesture and how wide such a decree might be.
Many Western organizations were trying quietly to persuade the Kremlin to include some dissidents in the amnesty which would have been a significant departure from tradition here.
There have been various such amnesties in the past, the most recent in 1975, but none have included those imprisoned for serious crimes or crimes against the state.
Today's decree applies to some common criminals serving less than five-year terms, and is limited to prisoners who are World War II veterans, decorated heroes of the state, women and minor children. The sentences of these prisoners will be terminated immediately and they will be released.
In addition, outright pardons were granted to all male inmates over 60 years of age, women over 55. [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of minor children, the pregnant and the disabled.The decree also cut in half the unserved portion of a sentence of more than five years for anyone in the pardoned category who faced a sentence of more than five years.
The decree according to Tass, does not apply to persons convicted for particularly dangerous offences against the state, to persons recognized as particularly dangerous recidivists, and those convicted for grave crimes."
Most crimes against the state, such as spreading anti-Soviet propaganda, are considered grave crimes. Most of the dissidents who have been jailed here in the Kremlin's drive this year against the small band of human rights activitists have been reportedly charged with various kinds of crimes against the state.
The most serious case is apparently being readied against Anatoli Scharansky, a Jewish human rights activist who reportedly has been charged with treason a capital crime.
Andrei Sakharov, the Nobel laureate physicist who has been an outspoken human rights critic for nearly a decade today lamented the exclusion of dissenters from the amnesty.
While praising the government for extending pardons to some criminals, Sakharov told Western reporters that "excluding all who are suffering not because of real crimes - the prisoners of conscience - causes a real disappointment. They are the people suffering for religious activity for defense of human rights."
Sakharov, who with 40 other Moscow dissidents publicly sought Oct. 30 to have the government include dissenters in its amnesty, today said: "Persecution of prisoners of conscience in the Soviet Union is a challenge to world public opinion. I am sure that sooner or later, fairness and reason will triumph.
Western observers have estimated that some one million persons are imprisoned in the Soviet Union, including perhaps 10,000 political prisoners, although no Western source has publicly claimed anything but the ability to make reasonably informed guess.
Todays amnesty is similar to one granted ten years ago to mark the 50th anniversary of the revolution. All these amnesties resemble those granted in pre-revolutionary times in that they have no place for political dissenters.
Since this spring, about a dozen human rights activists and dissidents have been arrested. Two Ukrainin dissenters have been tried, found guilty and sentenced to siff terms at hard labor and internal exile.