Russian punk bandmates released from prison
Maria Alekhina, a member of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, speaks to the media at the Committee against Torture after being released from prison, in Nizhny Novgorod, on Monday. Alekhina, and two other band members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich, were found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two years in prison for the performance at Moscow's main cathedral in March 2012.AP Photo/The Committee against Torture
KRASNOYARSK, Russia — 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.”
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.
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.
Tolokonnikova walked out of a prison in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk on Monday, smiling to reporters and flashing a V sign. Tolokonnikova said the way prisons are run reflect the way the country is governed.
“I saw this small totalitarian machine from the inside,” the 24-year-old said. “Russia functions the same way the prison colony does.”
Alekhina, who was released earlier on Monday from a prison outside Nizhny Novgorod, said she would have stayed behind bars to serve her term if she had been allowed.
“If I had a chance to turn it down, I would have done it, no doubt about that,” she told Dozhd TV. “This is not an amnesty. This is a hoax and a PR move.”
Alekhina said that prison officials didn’t give her a chance to say goodbye to cellmates, but put her in a car and drove her to the train station in downtown Nizhny Novgorod.
On Monday, the European Court of Human Rights said it will review a complaint filed by band members over their treatment while on trial in Moscow in 2012.