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Pussy Riot band member freed

Court upholds convictions for two others

MOSCOW — A Moscow court Wednesday freed one of the three members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot.

Yekaterina Samutsevich was handed a suspended sentence and freed on probation, after winning her appeal against a two-year jail term for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.

The court upheld the convictions of Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, both mothers of young children, who in August were sentenced to two years in jail for the band’s now internationally publicized “punk prayer” protesting against Russian president Vladimir Putin, and his close relations with the powerful leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Lawyers for Samutsevich successfully argued that she had not participated in the protest at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour cathedral last February, as she had been removed from the church before she could join fellow members of Pussy Riot. She was not, therefore, guilty of offending any religious beliefs.

Samutsevich’s decision to request new counsel to argue her case caused the appeal, originally scheduled for Oct. 1, to be delayed by 10 days.

The three women told the court they had not intended to offend Orthodox believers and that the protest was purely political.

During the 30-second action members of the group chanted “Mother of God, drive Putin away” amid chaotic scenes, as cathedral security men intervened to drag them away.

The women were arrested some days later after a video of the incident with a studio-dubbed soundtrack was released on the Internet.

Two unidentified members of the group who were at the protest but not arrested are understood to have left the country.

Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova are now likely to be moved from Moscow to serve out their sentences in a medium security prison.

The plight of the women has focused attention on Russia’s human rights record worldwide. Amnesty Intl. has declared the women prisoners of conscience, musicians including Madonna and Paul McCartney have spoken out in their defense, and Variety included them in its recent Women’s Impact special issue.

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