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Pussy Riot women vow to fight on after release

Russia on Monday released the two jailed members of anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot whose imprisonment prompted a wave of global outrage, with both women immediately vowing to fight injustice in Russian prisons.

world Updated: Dec 23, 2013 21:52 IST
Feminist-punk-group-Pussy-Riot-member-Maria-Alekhina-sits-inside-a-glass-cage-at-a-court-in-Moscow-Russia-AP-Photo
Feminist-punk-group-Pussy-Riot-member-Maria-Alekhina-sits-inside-a-glass-cage-at-a-court-in-Moscow-Russia-AP-Photo

Russia on Monday released the two jailed members of anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot whose imprisonment prompted a wave of global outrage, with both women immediately vowing to fight injustice in Russian prisons.

Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were freed two months early under a Kremlin-backed amnesty after serving most of their two-year sentences but slammed the amnesty as just a publicity stunt before the Olympic Games Russia is hosting in February.

Alyokhina, 25, was quietly whisked away from her prison colony in the city of Nizhny Novgorod while Tolokonnikova, 24, emerged in style and faced a media scrum a few hours later from a prison hospital in Krasnoyarsk in Siberia.

Wearing fishnet stockings amid temperatures of minus 25 degrees Celsius and hair perfectly coiffed, Tolokonnikova said her prison time only made her more resolute in opposing President Vladimir Putin's rule.

"I don't consider this time wasted," she said. "I became older, I saw the state from within, I saw this totalitarian machine as it is."

"Russia is built on the model of a penal colony and that is why it is so important to change the penal colonies today to change Russia," she said.

Alyokhina meanwhile used her first interview after her release to slam the amnesty as a mere publicity stunt, and said that she would have preferred to remain in prison but wasn't given a choice.

"I don't think the amnesty is a humanitarian act, I think it's a PR stunt," she told Dozhd television channel. "If I had a choice to refuse (the amnesty), I would have, without a doubt."

The release of the women, who were convicted of hooliganism after staging a "punk prayer" in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour came just three days after the shock freeing of anti-Kremlin tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who spent a decade behind bars.

Read: Pussy Riot - symbol of the new, bold anti-Vladimir Putin opposition

Whisked away to freedom
Alyokhina's release was marked by the same kind of security as the special operation that freed Khodorkovsky, who was not seen after his release until he touched down at a Berlin airport on Friday afternoon.

She was taken away from the prison without saying goodbye to her fellow inmates or speaking with the media and eventually made her way to the offices of local NGO Committee Against Torture to make her first phonecalls and discuss violations at the colony.

Still donning prison garb, she said she has no regrets. "I am not sorry, I am proud of what we did," she said, adding that she would like to use the same artistic style in tackling the issue of prisoner rights.

If offered to stage the church stunt again, "we would sing the song to the end," she said. "You have to listen to the whole thing, not just the first verse."

Tolokonnikova added that if the amnesty were wider, then it could be viewed by Western countries as a reason not to boycott the Olympic Games. "As it stands, I appeal for a boycott, I appeal for honesty, I appeal for not being bought for oil and gas," she said.

Rebels with a cause
The pair and fellow activist Yekaterina Samutsevich were convicted on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after staging the "punk prayer" and asking the Virgin Mary to get rid of Vladimir Putin in February 2012.

They later released a video clip of their performance which has now been banned.

The stunt came just ahead of Putin's re-election to the Kremlin in March 2012 and was aimed at denouncing the Orthodox Church's support of the Russian strongman during the campaign.

All were arrested in early March 2012. Samutsevich was later freed on appeal with a suspended sentence, but Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were sent to faraway penal colonies to serve their two-year terms.

Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova, whose sentences would have run out in early March, were granted the amnesty last week after parliament approved a Kremlin-backed bill.

Their jailing turned them from little-known feminist punks who staged a handful of guerrilla performances in Moscow to the stars of a global cause celebre symbolising the repression of civil dissent under Putin.

They received support from luminaries ranging from Madonna to Yoko Ono to Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

The case also polarised Russian society, with Orthodox conservatives regularly getting into fights with Pussy Riot supporters during the trial, and even staging rallies of their own.

Read:Pussy Riot punk Alyokhina freed from Russian prison, says lawyer

Read:Freed Pussy Riot punk slams Kremlin amnesty as 'PR stunt'