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Russia Approves Tobin Early Release - 2001-08-02

An American student who is serving time on drug charges in Russia is one step closer Thursday to getting out of prison. A Russian parole board on Thursday voted unanimously to grant John Tobin early release.

The American Fulbright student is serving a year-long sentence for a drug conviction and became eligible for parole on Thursday, halfway through is sentence.

Mr. Tobin was arrested in January of this year on drug charges in the southern city of Voronezh. But the case gained notoriety a month later when the local office of the Federal Security Service, the FSB, said they believed the American was actually a spy in training. The FSB said the American student came to Russia to familiarize himself with the language and culture before starting work as a spy for the United States. However, they never charged him with any spying related activity.

Mr. Tobin has repeatedly denied the drug charges and the spying allegations. He maintains he was simply doing political science research while in Voronezh and that the drugs were planted on him.

The spying allegations raised suspicions because they came at a time when the U.S. and Russia were both accusing the other of spying. Many observers believe the charges against Mr. Tobin were trumped up as part of the dispute.

Mr. Tobin's early release must be approved by the regional prosecutor's office and a local court.

If his early release is approved, Mr. Tobin could be out of prison as early as Friday.