2 Pussy Riot members released from prison

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 23, 2013 at 2:01 pm •  Published: December 23, 2013
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KRASNOYARSK, Russia (AP) — The last two imprisoned members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot walked free Monday, criticizing the amnesty measure that released them as a publicity stunt, with one calling for a boycott of the Winter Olympics to protest Russia's human rights record.

Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were granted amnesty last week in a move largely viewed as the Kremlin's attempt to soothe criticism of Russia's human rights record before the Sochi Games in February.

"I'm calling for a boycott of the Olympic Games," Tolokonnikova said. "What is happening today — releasing people just a few months before their term expires — is a cosmetic measure."

The amnesty — part of a wide measure passed last week by the parliament — and President Vladimir Putin's pardoning last week of onetime oil tycoon and political rival Mikhail Khodorkovsky freed some of the most prominent convicts who were sentenced in politically-tainted cases.

But it also gives them new freedom to launch criticism of Putin's Russia amid intense attention from international news media.

Khodorkovsky on Sunday told a news conference that his release shouldn't be seen as indicating that there aren't other "political prisoners" in Russia.

Andrei Makarkin of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies think tank cautioned that the releases didn't foretell a change in the Kremlin's hard line on criticism.

"If someone else challenges the government on issues that it considers important, it will show no clemency," he said.

Another member of Pussy Riot, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was previously released on a suspended sentence. All three were found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two years in prison for a guerrilla performance at Moscow's main cathedral in March 2012.

The band members said their protest was meant to highlight their concern about increasingly close ties between the state and the church.

Russia's parliament passed the amnesty bill last week, allowing the release of thousands of inmates. Alekhina and Tolokonnikova, who were due for release in March, qualified for amnesty because they have small children.

There has been an international outcry over Russia's human rights record, including a law passed earlier this year that bans so-called gay propaganda among minors, which gay groups in Russia and abroad say feeds the existing enmity toward gay people in the country.

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