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Pussy Riot Members Released Early From Prison

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Pussy Riot member, Maria Alyokhina is surrounded by journalists after being freed from prison. (ANASTASIYA MAKARYCHEVA/AFP/Getty Images)

Pussy Riot member, Maria Alyokhina is surrounded by journalists after being freed from prison. (ANASTASIYA MAKARYCHEVA/AFP/Getty Images)

By Shannon Carlin

The two jailed members of Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, were released today (Dec. 23) under a new amnesty law in Russia.

The two women, who were found guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” in 2012 after performing an anti-Putin “punk prayer” in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral, were serving a two-year sentence, which was set to end in February.

Russian parliament passed the amnesty bill last week, allowing thousands of inmates to go free, including 30 people who were arrested during a Greenpeace protest against arctic drilling. Part of the reason the Pussy Riot rockers qualified for amnesty was because they have small children. But Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, says the amnesty was not passed with Pussy Riot or Greenpeace in mind, but to commemorate the 20th anniversary Russia’s post-Soviet constitution.

RUSSIA-MUSIC-RIGHTS-POLITICS(ANASTASIYA MAKARYCHEVA/AFP/Getty Images)

After being set free from a prison in the western city of Nizhny Novgorod this morning, Alyokhina spoke with the New York Times about the early release, explaining that she did not want amnesty and felt the program was designed to make President Putin look good.

“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 told the paper. “But I don’t consider this humane or merciful. This is a lie. We didn’t ask for any pardon. I would have sat here until the end of my sentence because I don’t need mercy from Putin.”

Hunter Healey, the Executive Director of The Voice Project, an organization that has worked behind the scenes for the women’s release, agreed that the amnesty program is nothing more than a PR move for Putin, but was happy that the two women had finally been set free.

“Amnesty being ‘granted’ to two women put in prison for a 40-second song performance, who would have been released in a mere couple of months, after missing nearly two years with their young children and loved ones is, of course, absurd,” Healey said. “Last minute amnesty does not make up for that or the rule of law denied to so many others by the Putin regime and our thoughts are with them today. However, we are so happy that Nadya and Masha are safe, have come through this ordeal healthy and strong, and two young mothers will now be getting to see their children. A very large community of activists and donors around the world have worked hard to help to see that happen.”

After being released from a prison camp in Siberia, Tolokonnikova told reporters she and Alyokhina were going to set up a human rights group to help other prisoners.

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

In September, Tolokonnikova went on hunger strike in support of her fellow inmates and had gone missing back in November, eventually turning up after it was discovered that she’d been moved to a different penal colony.

The band’s third member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, avoided jail time by appealing her sentence.

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