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Thin and pale, American Fulbright scholar John Tobin gave a brief smile as he strode out through the gates of a prison in southern Russia on Friday after his parole from a one-year drug sentence. Tobin, who said he was jailed after refusing to spy for Russia, was flanked by prison officials who elbowed their way past journalists outside the white brick walls of the shabby, Soviet era prison in the town of Rossosh. Without stopping to talk, he got into a car with two U.S. Embassy representatives and drove to catch an overnight train to Moscow from the regional center of Voronezh, where he loaded two cartloads of books and personal things into his train car. Asked at the station if he was bitter over his ordeal, he said, “No,” but otherwise declined to speak to reporters. A court approved his parole Friday at a prison hearing, following a unanimous parole board recommendation on Thursday that he be let go. Tobin, 24, was arrested in January in Voronezh, where he was doing political science research. He was convicted in April of obtaining, possessing and distributing marijuana and sentenced to 37 months in prison. A higher court, however, overturned the distribution conviction and reduced the sentence to one year. Tobin was arrested as he left a Voronezh nightclub, and police said they found him to be in possession of a small amount of marijuana. The case took on political overtones when the Russian Federal Security Service charged that Tobin was a spy in training, citing his Russian studies at the elite Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif. 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 was taken up by members of Congress from Connecticut, who wrote to Russian officials and pressed President George W. Bush to take up the case in his meetings with President Vladimir Putin. U.S. Rep. James H. Maloney, who represents Tobin’s district in Congress, said he and Tobin’s family are concerned that something may happen to Tobin before he leaves Russia. “We’re on guard for that.” Tobin was expected to return to the United States by next Tuesday or Wednesday, he said. “I’m absolutely elated,” said Alyce Van Etten, Tobin’s mother, who lives in Monticello, N.Y. “I look forward to hearing his voice as soon as possible.” Russian prison and court officials in the Voronezh region sounded eager to be rid of Tobin and the controversy that went with the case. “We have to get rid of this headache for the (prison) administration,” Judge Boris Gladko, of the Rossosh City Court, said Thursday. Prison officials said Tobin was a model inmate, learning woodcarving, attending the prison’s small Russian Orthodox chapel and working out. They also used the news media attention as a chance to boast about prison conditions, which they said were better than in many of Russia’s overcrowded, tuberculosis-ridden facilities. Last December, Edmund Pope, a U.S. businessman convicted of spying and sentenced to 20 years in a Russian prison, was quickly pardoned by President Vladimir 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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