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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 27 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 52
Pussy Riot freed
Section One
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Pussy Riot freed

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Two jailed members of the Russian all-girl punk band Pussy Riot were released from prison three months early on December 23. Maria Alvokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were convicted of 'hooliganism' in 2012.

A third member of the band, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was also convicted but her sentence was overturned on appeal.

In Russian law, 'hooliganism' is a catch-all term that can be applied to a broad range of offenses from vandalism, to public fighting, to political protest.

In the case of Pussy Riot, the band entered Christ the Savior Cathedral, the headquarters of the Russian Orthodox Church, and performed a piece called 'Punk Prayer,' in which they implored the Virgin Mary 'Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!'

The early release of Pussy Riot, like the previous release of Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was seen as an effort to buff up Russia's international image ahead of the opening of the Sochi Winter Olympics in February.

Both Alvokhina and Tolokonnikova refused to play ball, however. In a telephone interview with BBC News on the day of her release, Alyokhina said that she did not want amnesty, and that officials had forced her to leave the prison.

She said that her release was designed to make Putin look benevolent, and that she would have preferred to serve the remainder of her sentence.

'I think this is an attempt to improve the image of the current government, a little, before the Sochi Olympics - particularly for the Western Europeans,' she said. 'But I don't consider this humane or merciful.'

She added, 'This is a lie.'

'We didn't ask for any pardon,' Alyokhina added. 'I would have sat here until the end of my sentence because I don't need mercy from Putin.'

Tolokonnikova shouted 'Russia without Putin' as she emerged from a prison hospital in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk.

The 24-year-old said her time in jail had not been wasted, adding, 'I became older, I saw the state from within, I saw this totalitarian machine as it is.

'Russia is built on a penal colony. That is why it is so important to change the prison system in order to change Russia.'

Both women were set free under the terms of an amnesty law passed by Russia's parliament, controlled by Putin's political allies.

Mark Denisov, an official with the Public Supervisory Commission in Krasnoyarsk, which is responsible for monitoring prison conditions and prisoners' rights, said he expected that about 1,000 convicts would ultimately be released under the amnesty program out of some 23,000 held in jails in the region.

In addition to Pussy Riot and Khodorkovsky, Russian authorities also announced they would drop charges against 30 Greenpeace activists arrested in a protest at a Russian oil-drilling platform, and allow them to leave the country.

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