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American Fulbright scholar John Tobin won a recommendation that he be released as early as today from the Russian prison where he is serving a drug sentence, and Russian authorities appeared eager to end his high-profile imprisonment. Tobin, 24, became eligible for parole Thursday, the halfway point of his one-year sentence, and the parole board unanimously recommended release, satisfied by his behavior at the prison in the southern town of Rossosh. The recommendation must be confirmed by a court, which was scheduled to convene this morning at the prison. Tobin was arrested in January amid strain in U.S.-Russian relations, which was exacerbated by claims by the Russian Federal Security Service that Tobin was a spy in training. No espionage charges were filed, however, and Tobin said he was framed on the drug charges because he refused to work for Russian intelligence. Tobin’s case has been taken up by members of Congress from his home state of Connecticut, who have written to Russian officials and pressed President Bush to press the issue in his meetings with President Vladimir Putin. “We have to get rid of this headache for the [prison] administration,” Judge Boris Gladko of the Rossosh City Court said. Gladko received the parole board’s recommendation Thursday afternoon. Prison officials have said that if the commission’s decision is approved, Tobin would most likely be freed the day of the court hearing. But the warden of the prison where Tobin was being held, Nikolai Kravchenko, said the law gives the prison seven days to carry out a court decision. Kravchenko also welcomed the signs that Tobin could soon be out of his jurisdiction and back in Connecticut. “I’m probably more interested than anybody in his speedy return home,” he said by telephone. The warden said Tobin had been learning woodworking at the prison, playing pingpong and “so-so” chess. Kravchenko also boasted about the state of his prison, saying U.S. Embassy officials even “expressed their gratitude” to him for ensuring Tobin was held in decent conditions. Most Russian prisons are drastically overcrowded and disease-ridden. Tobin, who was doing political science research in Voronezh, about 300 miles south of Moscow, was convicted in April of obtaining, possessing and distributing marijuana and sentenced to 37 months in prison in Rossosh in the Voronezh region. Later, a higher court overturned the distribution conviction and reduced the sentence to one year. Last December, Edmund Pope, a U.S. businessman convicted of spying and sentenced to 20 years in a Russian prison, was quickly pardoned by Putin as a humanitarian gesture. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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