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Softer Jail Rules Proposed for Ill Suspects

Stung by the high-profile deaths of two ill prisoners in pretrial detention, prison officials have proposed that suspects diagnosed with one of 40 illnesses remain at liberty while investigators build cases against them.

Vladislav Tsaturov, who oversees detention facilities for the Federal Prison Service, said in an interview published Wednesday that his agency has drafted legislation that would allow judges to grant freedom to seriously ill suspects.

The 40 illnesses that would qualify a detainee for freedom include tuberculosis and advanced AIDS and cancer, he told Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

Current law allows judges to set free seriously ill convicts, while jailed suspects are easy targets for corrupt law enforcement officials, who withhold medical treatment while pressing for confessions.

Maria Kannabikh, a member of the Public Chamber and head of the Federal Prison Service's Public Council, praised the initiative but voiced disappointment that it had taken the death of two ill suspects, Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and businesswoman Vera Trifonova, to bring it about.

“We paid an expensive price for those proposals,” Kannabikh told The Moscow Times.

Magnitsky, 37, who had acute pancreatitis, died in a Moscow pretrial detention center in November after reportedly being denied medical assistance. President Dmitry Medvedev reacted by firing 20 senior prison officials.

Trifonova, 53, who had a severe form of diabetes and other ailments, died of heart failure in a Moscow detention facility last month after prison officials, the lead investigator in her case and a judge denied her access to medical assistance.

A senior investigator fired in connection with Trifonova's death returned to work Wednesday, Interfax reported. But the official, Valery Ivarlak, a department head with the Moscow regional branch of the Investigative Committee, remains under investigation, Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin told Interfax.

A Moscow regional court ruled Wednesday that Trifonova should have been released because of her poor health, Interfax reported.

In another instance of an ill suspect being denied freedom, it took two years of court hearings and fierce international pressure before authorities agreed to release former Yukos vice president Vasily Aleksanyan in December 2008 on bail of 50 million rubles ($1.6 million). Aleksanyan had cancer and AIDS.

Human rights campaigners have called for legislation allowing freedom for ill suspects since 2002, said Andrei Babushkin, who regularly visits detention facilities as head of the Committee for Civil Rights, a public watchdog.

“It only became clear to the authorities that something had to be done after the cases of Magnitsky and Trifonova,” he said.

He said earlier stages of cancer also should be included in the proposed legislation. “You shouldn’t wait until the last stage of cancer. The speed at which the cancer spreads should be the key factor,” he said.

Several hundred suspects currently being held in detention facilities meet the criteria for release under the proposed legislation, he said. About 130,000 people are locked up in pretrial detention facilities around the country, according to the Federal Prison Service.

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