AP is reporting that Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova have officially been released from prison, following an amnesty approved by Russian president Vladimir Putin. The two members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot were imprisoned in 2012 for staging a protest performance at a Moscow church.
Their story, and particularly that of Tolokonnikova, who went on two hunger strikes before going missing for several weeks in the course of a transfer, has drawn international attention to both the injustice of their imprisonment and also to the conditions of Russia’s prison system.
The amnesty for the prisoners (a number of unrelated prisoners were also released) is widely viewed as a public relations move in advance of Russia’s hosting of the upcoming Winter Olympics. The newly-released punk rockers made it clear that they share this view.
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, Alyokhina said. 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.
She said she would have refused the amnesty and stayed in prison if she’d had the choice.
More like this:
Pussy Riot Members Receive Amnesty, Will Go Free
Pussy Riot Member Reportedly In Serious Condition, Family Denied Access
Pussy Riot Declared Guilty Of Hooliganism, Receive Two Years In Prison, Remain Punk As Hell
Though perviously assured by Russian prison officials that they would be informed of her whereabouts within 10 days of her transfer, the family of punk activist Nadezhda (Nadia) Tolokonnikova has still not had any contact with her, 17 days later. They believe she may be moved to a penal colony in Siberia.
To recap, months after her arrest and imprisonment for an illegal protest inside a Moscow church with her band, Pussy Riot, Tolokonnikova began a hunger strike to protest human rights violations she said were taking place in her original prison. She was moved to a hospital and then again to prison, where she either began or threatened another such strike. She was apparently then granted the transfer she had been petitioning for, but has now gone missing.
Tolokonnikova’s husband, Peter Verzilov, told Rolling Stone that an unnamed prison source provided the information that she would be sent to the new Siberian colony. He believes the move is the result of both Nadia’s hunger strike and the protests being staged by her supporters outside the prison where she was formerly held. He and his father-in-law have stated their belief that officials are trying to cut off her communication with the outside world as a form of punishment, and they fear she may still be sick, abused, or worse.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot, has reportedly been moved from her prison to an affiliated hospital, more than seven days after beginning a hunger strike. Her lawyers and family have been denied contact with her so far.
The 23-year-old Tolokonnikova, along with two of her bandmates, staged a peaceful protest in a Moscow church in February of 2012, in objection to the church’s support for President Vladimir Putin. In August 2012, the three women were convicted on what appeared to be trumped-up charges, and sentenced to two years imprisonment. Band member Yekaterina Samutsevich had her sentence suspended on appeal.
Just over one week ago, Tolokonnikova released a letter, published in The Guardian, announcing her intention to begin a hunger strike, to bring attention to what she described as human rights violations in her prison. Prison officials have allegedly been pitting her fellow inmates against her, punishing her for her high profile and outspoken complaints, and she has asked to be transfered to a different prison. Russian corrections officials deny the charges.
Tolokonnikova is reported to be in very poor condition, while her family and lawyers attempt contact and fear for her safety.
This morning, inside of a Russian court surrounded outside by furious protesters, a judge declared Russian punk band Pussy Riot guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” The charge ultimately came with a sentence of two years in jail, and the ruling comes five months after band members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich were initially imprisoned for performing a “punk prayer” in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. In the February 2012 performance, the group donned neon“colored balaclavas and played a song entitled “Mother of God, Chase Putin Out,” which resulted in their immediate arrest and detention at the hands of Russian police.
Over the course of their time in custody, the band members have received support from numerous high“profile musicians, including Paul McCartney, Peaches, Madonna, Sting, Peter Gabriel, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Bjí¶rk. Despite the mounting global pressure from celebrity musicians and human rights organizations on Russian authorities to release the women, the judge declared that the two“year sentence is a “caution to others” according to the Wall Street Journal’s live blogging of the trial.
In their closing statements preceding the sentencing, band members defended their actions against the prosecution’s accusations of religious hatred. Samutsevich declared that Vladimir Putin‘s government had appropriated the Orthodox Church as a political tool in order to control the Russian populace, and repress human rights and civil liberties. The band’s performance, Samutsevich continued, was an attempt to reclaim the Orthodox culture, which the government had co“opted as an oppressive arm of the Putin regime. Contrary to the charges against them, the band members claim, their performance was meant to reunite the church with the Russian spirit of “civic revolt and protest.” Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova also drew parallels with persecuted Soviet“era poet Joseph Brodsky and the absurdist Oberiu poets of the 1920s and ’30s. Brodsky was denounced and eventually expelled from the USSR, while the Oberiu poets were condemned for “literary hooliganism” and arrested.
Russia’s notably troubled history with media censorship has been worsening, as the trial’s outcome suggests. The Huffington Post claims that recent laws have increased fines to almost $9,000 for those who take part in unauthorized demonstrations, and that NGOs must register as “foreign agents” if they are to engage in any political activity. Though the three members of Pussy Riot supposedly laughed after their sentence was announced, it remains to be seen whether their sentencing will trigger a larger backlash against Russia’s draconian censorship laws, as they implied in their closing statements.
Below, watch a bystander video of the protest gig that resulted in the band’s arrest.
After sentencing, the band remained defiant, with Alyokhina stating bluntly, “I am not afraid of you and I am not afraid of the thinly veneered deceit of your verdict at this ˜so-called’ trial. My truth lives with me. I believe that honesty, free-speaking and the thirst for truth will make us all a little freer. We will see this come to pass.”
More like this: