Pussy Riot activist freed in Russia

Cheers broke out in a Moscow appeals court today as 30-year-old Yekaterina Samutsevich, an activist from the now world-famous Russian punk band Pussy Riot, was released from detention on probation. She had been found guilty of ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’ two months ago, along with fellow defendants Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Maria Alyokhina, 24, who have now been moved to prison colonies to serve their two-year sentences.

The trio were arrested in March after performing an anti-putin “punk prayer” in Moscow cathedral a month earlier, which was said to offend some Russian orthodox believers. All three were originally convicted of hooliganism, despite having pleaded not guilty on the grounds that their behaviour was a political action. They have repeatedly claimed that they had no intention of making an anti-religious statement and Alyokhina today made another address to the Russian religious population as she said “dear believers, we did not want to offend you”.

Samutsevich’s sentence was suspended after a new lawyer put to the court that the defendant had been removed from Moscow cathedral shortly after having entered. She had not, therefore, been involved in any “praying, jumping [or] shouting expletives offensive to believers”. The appeal was postponed until today after Samutsevich had fired her lawyers and asked for time to assemble a new legal team, citing differences of opinion.

Though the argument made by Samutsevich’s new lawyer was accepted by the court, judges refused to allow the defence team to bring in experts or more witnesses from the cathedral. The defendants’ plea to hold a fresh psychological and linguistic evaluation of their protest song was also rejected. Despite the failure in gaining freedom for the remaining two defendants, relatives and lawyers stressed that there was no split in the group, and Samutsevich reiterated her opposition to Putin.

Putin has publicly expressed his disdain for the anti-Kremlin punk band, saying that they “got what they asked for.” Recent polls have also shown that the majority of Russians back the prison sentences for Pussy Riot. In one poll over 40% of people even considered the sentences too lenient. The reaction outside of Russia has been quite different however, and the members’ imprisonment has been met with international condemnation. Amnesty International is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all members of the band.

Alyokhina today warned that their fight was not over. “We’re all innocent…the verdict should be overturned” she said. “We won’t stay silent – even in Mordovia, or Siberia – however uncomfortable that is for you”. Defence lawyer Mark Feigin said the appeal would continue at the European Court of Human Rights.

Sources include: The Telegraph, The Guardian, BBC News

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