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Wednesday, Oct 10, 2012, 12:05 pm

One Pussy Riot Member Goes Free; Tough Luck for the Other Two

By Sarah Cobarrubias

A Russian appeals court ordered today the release of Yekaterina Samutsevich after giving her a suspended term.
( Natalia Kolesnikova/ AFP / Getty Images)

This morning, a Russian appeals court freed Yekaterina Samutsevich, one of three members of the punk band Pussy Riot jailed for a public protest against President Vladimir Putin. But the courts upheld the 2-year prison sentence for the remaining two members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina. 


In August, the three women were convicted of hooliganism "motivated by religious hatred" and sentenced to two years in a penal colony. The band's offense was a February performance of a “punk prayer” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, in which they called upon the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin, who was heading into a March election that would win him his third term as President of Russia. (Because Russian law only allows two consecutive terms as president, Putin was serving a term as prime minister at the time to circumvent this provision.)

Today’s appeal was postponed from October 1 after Samutsevich fired her defense lawyers. The women argued in court this morning that their “punk prayer” performance was a political protest, not an assault on religion. The Associated Press reports that, from inside a glass box known as the "aquarium,” Samutsevich told the court:

If we unintentionally offended any believers with our actions, we express our apologies. … The idea of the protest was political, not religious. … In this and in previous protests we acted against the current government of the president, and against the Russian Orthodox Church as an institution of the Russian government, against the political comments of the Russian patriarch. Exactly because of this I don't consider that I committed a crime.

While the court upheld the guilty verdict for all three women, it suspended the sentence for Samutsevich after her lawyer, Irina Khrunova, argued that she played a smaller role in the protest, stating, "The punishment for an incomplete crime is much lighter than for a completed one. … She did not participate in the actions the court found constituted hooliganism." 

Hiring new defense may have been the key to freedom for Samutsevich, but her bandmates are due to finish out their two-year sentences, despite similar appeals. Tolokonnikova told the courts, "I don't consider myself guilty. But again I ask all those who are listening to me for the last time: I don't want people to be angry at me. Yes, I'm going to prison, but I don't want anyone to think that there is any hatred in me."

Defense lawyers pleaded for the court to keep in mind that Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina each have a young child at home, but to no avail.

The judge interrupted the defendants when they mentioned their political intentions. But the women were persistent in their struggle against the suppression of political speech. As Alyokhina said, “We will not be silent. And even if we are in Mordovia or Siberia (where prisoners in Russia are often sent to serve out their terms) we won't be silent."


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