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Moscow court frees 1 of 3 Pussy Riot members

Associated Press Modified: October 10, 2012 at 2:02 pm •  Published: October 10, 2012
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"Of course, I will, naturally. They are my friends and companions in arms," Samutsevich, who at 30 is the oldest of the three, told journalists outside the courtroom. "As to the decision, I don't know why, you need to ask the court. I think this was thanks to the defense's ironclad arguments."

Her new lawyer, Irina Khrunova, said the reason for Samutsevich's release was clear: "She did not participate in the actions the court found constituted hooliganism."

Members of the original defense team, who have been outspoken in their fierce criticism of the Kremlin, said they suspected political maneuverings. "We are dealing with a political game that could be about splitting Pussy Riot," defense lawyer Mark Feygin said.

Pavel Chikov, who like Khrunova is a member of an association of lawyers known for their work on rights cases, said the defense appeared to have two choices — either create a scandal and accept a harsh verdict, or work for the lightest punishment. "The girls chose the former," he wrote on Twitter.

The Russian Orthodox Church had said the appeals court should show leniency if the three women repented. But the defendants said Wednesday that they could not repent because they harbored no religious hatred and had committed no crime. Their protest, they said, was against Putin and the church hierarchy for openly supporting his rule.

Patriarch Kirill has expressed strong support for Putin, praising his leadership as "God's miracle." He described the punk performance as part of an assault by "enemy forces" on the church.

The judge repeatedly interrupted the defendants when their statements turned to politics, but they persisted in speaking their minds.

"We will not be silent. And even if we are in Mordovia or Siberia (regions where prisoners in Russia are often sent to serve out their terms) we won't be silent," Alekhina said.

Defense attorney Nikolai Polozov said the two women would receive copies of their sentences within two weeks and then transported to a penal colony; the location was as yet unknown. Once convicted, all Russian prisoners serve time in penal colonies.

A lawyer representing cathedral staff, Alexei Taratukhin, urged the court to uphold the verdict because the women's actions "had nothing to do with politics, democracy or freedom."

Five members of Pussy Riot entered the vast and nearly empty Christ the Savior Cathedral on Feb. 21. After Samutsevich and her guitar were bundled out, only four of them were left to dance on the pulpit and shout out the words to their song before they too were ousted by security guards.

The band members were wearing their trademark balaclavas, which may have made it more difficult for police to identify them. The three women were arrested in March, and the group said the two others have since fled the country.

Pussy Riot later produced a video that included footage of a previous performance in a smaller church and had a dubbed soundtrack. This video, which became an Internet hit, was what most angered Russian Orthodox believers.

Tolokonnikova appealed to Russians for understanding:

"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."

The court refused the defense lawyers' request to take into consideration that Tolokonnikova and Alekhina both have a young child.

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Mansur Mirovalev, Max Seddon and Lynn Berry contributed to this report.