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Moscow Panel Discuss U.S. Prisoners

December 8, 2000

MOSCOW (AP) _ Russia’s presidential pardons commission met on Friday to consider ailing U.S. prisoner Edmond Pope’s appeal for mercy, and committee members indicated they would recommend that Pope be freed.

Pope, 54, was convicted of espionage Wednesday despite his claims of innocence and sentenced to 20 years in a maximum-security prison. He and his family have begged for a pardon, saying they fear the bone cancer he suffered has returned.

``We have all grounds (for showing mercy): his age and state of health,″ pardons commission member Viktor Zhulev said Friday as he summarized the case before the panel, according to the Interfax news agency.

``Pope has chosen the path not of challenging the court’s ruling, but appealing to the president,″ Zhulev said. ``By acting in this way, he has acknowledged the fairness of the verdict.″

The pardon commission’s head has said President Vladimir Putin usually abides by the commission’s recommendations.

Pope, from State College, Pa., is a former naval officer and the founder of CERF Technologies, International, which specializes in studying foreign maritime equipment. He was convicted by a Moscow court after Russia’s Federal Security Service said he had illegally obtained classified plans for a high-speed underwater torpedo, the Shkval.

On Thursday, Pope appealed to Putin to free him.

``This letter is my appeal to free me from prison to enable me to return to Pennsylvania to join my family and to improve my health,″ Pope’s lawyer, Pavel Astakhov, quoted the letter as saying.

``I feel bad and need urgent medical aid,″ Astakhov read from a Russian translation of the letter. ``I appeal to you, asking you to resolve the question as soon as possible, as my father is terminally ill and I would like to see him for the last time.″

Anatoly Pristavkin, the head of the pardons commission, expressed hope late Thursday that Pope would be let go.

``I hope the commission will be, as always, humane and will recommend to the head of state to pardon the U.S. citizen Edmond Pope,″ Pristavkin said.

The case has cast a shadow over U.S.-Russian relations ever since Pope was arrested April 3 and jailed in Moscow’s foreboding Lefortovo Prison.

Pope has insisted on his innocence, saying the technology he obtained was not secret because it had already been sold abroad and published in open sources. Pope’s defense lawyers said the court was heavily biased in favor of the Federal Security Service, and the U.S. government said the Russian prosecutors had failed to prove their case.

Pope’s supporters also have pressed for humanitarian intervention because of Pope’s fragile health. Pope has suffered from a rare form of bone cancer which was in remission when he traveled to Russia. He also has high blood pressure, says his wife, Cheri.

She said she is ``hoping and praying right now that President Putin, when he promised us that he would help, that it would be very soon and I can take my husband home.″

Putin had said during a visit to the United States in September that Pope’s judicial process would have to be completed before he would intervene.

Pristavkin told Associated Press Television that the commission was concerned solely with the humanitarian aspect of Pope’s case.

``We do not question the decision of the court and the work of our law enforcement institutions,″ Pristavkin said. ``Pope has a case, he made a plea to the president. ... There is enough evidence to treat him mercifully.″

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