Russian court refuses to release Pussy Riot member

Reuters, MOSCOW

Sun, Apr 28, 2013 - Page 6

A Russian court refused to release from prison one of two jailed members of the Pussy Riot punk band so that she can look after her young daughter.

The court on Friday rejected Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s appeal for parole eight months after she was handed a two-year prison sentence for the band’s performance of a “punk prayer” in Moscow’s main Russian Orthodox cathedral in February last year.

Tolokonnikova, 23, has been serving her sentence for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” in a prison colony in central Russia, about 550km southeast of Moscow.

“I’ve spent enough time in the prison colony. I’ve had enough of studying it. Half a year is long enough,” Tolokonnikova, a philosophy student, told the judge at the parole hearing, the RAPSI legal news agency reported.

She complained of having frequent headaches in jail in Mordovia, a region that has a large number of prisons.

Her lawyer, Irina Khrunova, said Tolokonnikova’s five-year-old daughter Gera needed her mother.

The judge said Tolokonnikova’s parental status had been taken into account when she was sentenced — prosecutors had asked for three years — and pointed to two reprimands she has received as evidence that her conduct has not been sufficiently “corrected,” RAPSI reported.

Tolokonnikova and two other band members, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alekhina, were sentenced in August last year after a trial that was widely condemned abroad as part of a clampdown on dissent by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

CELEBRITY SUPPORT

Performers such as Madonna, Sting and Paul McCartney offered their support for Pussy Riot last year.

Although the two-year sentences outraged many liberals, many conservative Russians saw their profanity-laced protest against Putin’s close ties with the church, performed in short dresses and brightly colored tights and balaclavas, as sacrilege.

Samutsevich, 30, was freed in October, when her sentence was suspended on appeal after she argued that she had been prevented from taking part in the protest because a guard seized her.

Tolokonnikova and Alekhina, 24, lost their appeals and in January a judge rejected Alekhina’s request for her sentence to be deferred until her child is older.

She has also requested parole and that appeal could be heard next month.

The three women said they had not meant to offend Orthodox Christians with their protest, while anti-Putin protests were drawing tens of thousands of people to the streets of Moscow and other big cities.

The rallies have since dwindled and did not stop Putin winning a presidential election the next month.

In his annual nationwide question-and-answer session on Thursday, Putin denied using the courts for political ends.

NO REGRETS

He made clear he did not regret Pussy Riot’s sentences, mentioning them in the same breath as people who desecrate the graves of World War II veterans.

However, Samutsevich says Pussy Riot’s protest at least succeeded in drawing attention to what the all-women protest band sees as Putin’s unhealthy relationship with the church and a lack of political freedoms.

“We wanted to start a discussion in society, show our negative view of the merging of the church and state ... The problem was raised internationally, the problem of human rights was put sharply into focus,” she said in a recent interview.