Dec. 20 - Former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky has left a Russian penal colony after his surprise release from prison, while two other Kremlin critics await their own release in an amnesty proposed by President Putin. Mana Rabiee reports.
This is Penal Colony 7 in Russia's northwest, once part of the Gulag labor camp system. It's where former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was kept before his surprise release on Friday. He was jailed more than a decade ago for a theft conviction his supporters say was politically motivated. Two other Kremlin critics were also given amnesty this week. The mother of Maria Alyokhina, a member of the Pussy Riot punk band, had few details on her daughter's pardon. Maria and another band member received two-year sentences for protesting against Russian President Vladimir Putin. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) MOTHER OF MARIA ALYOKHINA, NATALIA ALYOKHINA, SAYING: "They don't say how long this whole thing will take. They just say there is a certain order and we have to follow it." In Siberia, the husband of fellow band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova stood vigil by her prison gates on Friday. It was uncertain just when the release might happen. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) HUSBAND OF JAIL PUSSY RIOT MEMBER NADEZHDA TOLOKONNIKOVA, PETER VERZILOV, SAYING: "It can happen any minute. I think that the prison administration is interested in releasing her in the most unexpected, surprising moment, so that no one will be waiting." Putin proposed the amnesty to mark the 20th anniversary of Russia's post-Soviet constitution. But the pardons could be seen as a move to improve Russia's human rights image, as it prepares to host the Olympic Games.