(MOSCOW) -- A Russian prisoner, held in jail for nearly eight years, was pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 for disobeying Putin's proclamation that Russian tycoons could keep their wealth as long as they paid taxes and stopped meddling in politics. Khodorkovsky continued to fund political organizations for three years after Putin's election in 2000, the Wall Street Journal says.
In 2005, Khodorkovsky and a business partner were found guilty of tax evasion and fraud. The energy tycoon was sent to a prison closer to Alaska than Moscow, reports the Journal. In his time in jail, Khodorkovsky refused to ask for a pardon, but may have changed his mind in recent months when his mother began a battle with cancer.
Secretary of State John Kerry praised the decision to release Khodorkovsky, saying that the U.S. had long "expressed our concerns about due process violations and selective prosecution in Russia.
Kerry further urged Russia to "pursue reforms that establish a transparent, independent and reliable judicial system that upholds its commitments to human rights, the rule of law and non-discrimination.
The BBC reports that the amnesty law passed earlier in the week could also lead to the release of 20,000 prisoners, including Greenpeace activists and the members of the punk band Pussy Riot.
Some experts believe that Putin's decision to pardon notable prisoners may be part of an attempt to minimize criticism ahead of February's Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
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