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Pussy Riot: Free

December 23, 2013  |  9:15am
Pussy Riot: Free

The remaining jailed members of Russia’s Pussy Riot, a band that led “punk prayer” protests against Vladimir Putin, have been set free today months ahead of their original release next March. The news was confirmed by Aljazeera, which said the two remaining jailed members were released from their respective prison colonies.

“If I had a chance to turn it down, I would have done it, no doubt about that,” freed Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina told Dozhd TV after her release. “This is not an amnesty. This is a hoax and a PR move.”

“We all recognize that the whole amnesty program is a PR move by Putin, likely of course a bit of image clean up prior to the Olympics,” said Hunter Heaney, who is the executive director of The Voice Project. The project has raised over $120,000 to monitor Pussy Riot’s prison conditions and assist in their release. “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. 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.”

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina have been serving out their two-year sentences in Siberian labor camps, and recently Tolokonnikova was kept in a prison hospital due to an undisclosed illness. Her own hunger strike, which started Sept. 23, and the following disappearance from her original camp, has been widely documented. Both members are mothers of young children, which was a factor in determining their release. A third member—Yekaterina Samutsevich, who was charged initially with her bandmates—was given a suspended sentence after six months of detention after convincing a court that she had not fully participated in the band’s Punk Prayer event.

“I will do this until the administration starts obeying the law and stops treating incarcerated women like cattle ejected from the realm of justice for the purpose of stoking the production of the sewing industry; until they start treating us like humans,” Tolokonnikova said in a letter announcing her hunger strike last September.

The release stems from an amnesty bill, initiated by Putin, which grants freedom to up to 25,000 individuals jailed on non-violent charges. The New York Times also notes that 30 Greenpeace demonstrators are expected to be released as well. Critics suggest Putin’s move is to take the two widely publicized situations out of the spotlight before the Winter Olympics are held in Russia this February, noting that some country leaders were hesitant to participate with the country’s current stance in these human rights cases.

“I feel sorry for Pussy Riot not for the fact that they were jailed, but for disgraceful behavior that has degraded the image of women,” Putin said in a recent news conference.

Along the way, Pussy Riot picked up many big-name supporters, including Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Madonna, who urged Putin to release the protesters.

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