Amidst international criticism of Russia’s human rights crackdown ahead of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, the country’s parliament has approved a mass amnesty for as many as 22,000 prisoners. The move is officially meant to mark the 20th anniversary of the passage of Russia’s post-Soviet constitution. Among the tens of thousands set to be released are the Arctic 30, members of Greenpeace who were arrested in September after trying to stop Russian oil drilling in the Arctic. "We’re glad it happened, but we’re still wondering why we need to be amnestied for something we didn’t do," says Peter Willcox, who was the captain of the Arctic Sunrise and has worked with Greenpeace for decades. "According to the World Court, we were arrested illegally on the high seas, illegally brought into Russia, and illegally detained." Willcox joins us from St. Petersburg, Russia, along with Dimitri Litvinov, a Russian-born U.S. and Swedish citizen who has worked with Greenpeace since 1989.
A court in Canada has ruled Ecuadorean farmers and fishermen can try to seize the assets of oil giant Chevron based on a 2011 decision in an Ecuadorean court found it liable for nearly three decades of soil and water pollution near oil wells, and said it had ruined the health and livelihoods of people living in nearby areas of the Amazon rain forest. Since then, the victims have been trying to collect some $18 billion in environmental damages. But Chevron has filed its own lawsuit that argues the verdict was won through fabrication of evidence and bribery. We speak with Paul Barrett of Bloomberg Businessweek about how oil corporations from Chevron to BP are fighting lawsuits brought against them by attacking the lawyers handling the cases.
In a major victory for prisoner rights advocates, President Obama has commuted the sentences of eight people he said were serving unfair sentences for drug crimes. Most of the six men and two women had been sentenced to life in prison for charges related to crack cocaine. All of them have already spent more than 15 years behind bars under what Obama called an “unfair system,” where there was a 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses. That disparity was reduced by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, but it came too late for thousands of inmates. “This is huge news. This gives these people the opportunity to return to their families,” says Jennifer Turner, Human Rights Researcher with the American Civil Liberties Union and author of the report, "A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses." Turner notes that Obama’s action is “an important first step” and calls on Congress to pass broader sentencing reform.
We speak with Jason Hernandez of McKinney, Texas, about his reaction to being one of the eight inmates whose sentences were commuted by President Obama on Thursday. “It’s a dream come true. I just hope this is the beginning of more to come,” Hernandez says in a phone call from prison. He describes how he was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1998 for his role in a drug conspiracy starting when he was only 15 years old. Hernandez says he was with the prison warden when he heard the news and that he hopes President Obama and Congress will “decide to do more for the other individuals in here” who were sentenced under similarly harsh drug laws for non-violent offenses.
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