Friday 23 February 2018

Don't trust Putin on human rights, warn freed Riot girls

Maria Alyokhina, one of the jailed members of anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot, is surrounded by journalists and her supporters as she arrives in Moscow on December 23, 2013
Maria Alyokhina, one of the jailed members of anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot, is surrounded by journalists and her supporters as she arrives in Moscow on December 23, 2013
Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova speaks to the media after she was released from prison in Krasnoyarsk yesterday

Roland Oliphant, Krasnoyarsk

TWO members of the girl punk band Pussy Riot released from Russian jails yesterday have defiantly warned Western governments not to be taken in by President Vladamir Putin's prison amnesty, claiming it was an effort to whitewash the Kremlin's human rights record ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were set free from separate prisons after serving 21 months following a provocative punk performance in Moscow's main cathedral in February 2012.

An amnesty -- which also saw the release of Russia's most famous prisoner, the tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, along with 22,000 people convicted of or charged with non-violent crime -- meant their two-year sentence for "hooliganism" was cut by just three months.

A third member of the group, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was earlier released on appeal.

Speaking to reporters moments after she walked out of a prison hospital in the city of Krasnoyarsk, Ms Tolokonnikova (24) criticised the spectacle of the amnesty, echoing her bandmate's assertion that it was a "profanity".

"For me it is obvious that the amnesty is PR aimed at the press, and primarily at Western audiences and Western governments," she said. "Putin wants to say to them, 'Look how good everything is, come to the Olympics. I let people out two months early; true, they tried to kill them in prison, but now they've been let go -- after everything we did to them'.

"It's funny, but it wouldn't be funny at all to people who really need it.

"They should be amnestied -- we don't need it. I can't say whether I feel free or not free, actually, because Russia is a country where whether inside or outside jail, we are prisoners in some way."

Ms Tolokonnikova (24) described how she had been "unquestionably" changed by her 21-month ordeal, from which she has emerged determined to try to improve conditions in Russia's grim prisons. "There is an opinion that prison does not have to be a completely negative thing, however unpleasant it was . . . the main thing is not to try to deny it, but to use (that experience) for good," she said.

She added that she believed she had been "punished enough" for the controversial "punk prayer" in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

And she revealed she enjoyed one of her happiest moments in prison: jamming with a prison band.

"I sang The Cranberries' Animal Instinct. That was a magical moment." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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