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Russia releases punk band members from prison

Two jailed members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot have been released under an amnesty law that both have described as a Kremlin public relations stunt ahead of the Winter Olympics.
Maria Alyokhina, one of the released members of anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot, slammed the amnesty as a mere publicity stunt and said that she would have preferred to remain in prison.  Anastasia Makarycheva / AFP
Maria Alyokhina, one of the released members of anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot, slammed the amnesty as a mere publicity stunt and said that she would have preferred to remain in prison. Anastasia Makarycheva / AFP

KRASNOYARSK, Russia // Two jailed members of the Russian punk bank Pussy Riot were released on Monday 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 Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.

The third member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released on a suspended sentence 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 in March 2012.

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

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

Tolokonnikova walked out of a prison in the eastern Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk on Monday, smiling to reporters and flashing a V sign.

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

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

“I saw this small totalitarian machine from the inside,” the 24-year-old said. “Russia functions the same way the prison colony does,” she said.

Alekhina, who was released earlier in the day 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.”

The release of the two Pussy Riot band members came days 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. 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.

Also on Monday, the European Court of Human Rights said it will review a complaint filed by band members over their treatment while on trial in Moscow in 2012.

*Associated Press

Updated: December 23, 2013 04:00 AM

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