independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Freed Pussy singers condemn amnesty

Pussy Riot band member Maria Alekhina has been freed from jail in Russia. (AP)

Two jailed members of the Russian punk bank Pussy Riot have been released following an amnesty law that both described as a Kremlin public relations stunt ahead of the Winter Olympics.

Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were granted amnesty last week in a move largely viewed as the Kremlin's attempt to soothe criticism of Russia's human rights record ahead of the games in Sochi in February.

The third member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released on a suspended sentence in 2012 months after all three were found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two years in prison for the performance at Moscow's main cathedral.

The band members said their protest was meant to raise their concern about increasingly close ties between the state and the church.

The Russian parliament passed the amnesty bill last week, allowing the release of thousands of inmates. Ms Alekhina and Ms Tolokonnikova, who were due for release in March, qualified for amnesty because they have small children.

Ms Tolokonnikova walked out of a prison gate in the eastern Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk , smiling and flashing a V sign.

"How do you like our Siberian weather here?" she asked, wearing a down jacket but no hat or scarf in -25C, adding that she and Ms Alekhina will set up a human rights group to help prisoners.

She said the way prisons are run reflect the way the country is governed.

"I saw this small totalitarian machine from the inside. Russia indeed works just the way the prison colony. That's why it's so important to change colonies so that Russia would change, too."

Ms Alekhina, who was released earlier from a prison outside the Volga river city of Nizhny Novgorod, said she would have stayed behind bars to serve her term if she was free to turn it down.

"If I had a chance to turn it down, I would have done it, no doubt about that," she told Dozhd TV. "This is not an amnesty. This is a hoax and a PR move."

She said the amnesty bill covered less than 10% of the prison population and only a fraction of women with children behind bars. Women convicted of grave crimes, even if they have children, are not eligible for amnesty.

The release of the band members came after president Vladimir Putin pardoned Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon and once Russia's richest man, who spent a decade in prison after challenging Mr Putin's power. Mr Khodorkovsky flew to Germany after release and said he will stay out of politics. He pledged, however, to fight for the release of political prisoners in Russia.

Russia's Supreme Court earlier this month ordered a review of the Pussy Riot case, saying that a lower court did not fully prove their guilt and did not take their family circumstances into consideration when reaching the verdict.

The European Court of Human Rights is also to review a complaint filed by band members over their treatment while on trial in Moscow in 2012.

There has been an international outcry over Russia's human rights record, including for passing a law earlier this year that bans so-called homosexual propaganda among minors, which gay groups in Russia and abroad say feeds the existing enmity toward gay people in the country.

-AP

Press Association

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