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Pussy Riot members in Berlin talk about plans for future

Pussy Riot members plan to run for office in Russia. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina also said they would work for the rights of prisoners around the world, having founded an organization called Zone of Law.

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Pussy Riot members mull political run

Speaking through an interpreter in Berlin on Monday,

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

(right in photo) and Maria Alyokhina (left) said they would seek election to Moscow's city legislature in a vote possibly scheduled for September.

The women received amnesty

and

left prison in December,

having served just less than the

two-year sentence they had received

for performing a punk prayer to protest President Vladimir Putin in February 2012.

"It's worth a try," Tolokonnikova said about the pair's city legislature ambitions.

On their release

after serving time for hooliganism

following their famous performance in Moscow's main Russian Orthodox cathedral, the two women said they would focus on campaigning for the rights of prisoners. They also called for international monitoring of Russian prisons.

"The government has refused our request to register Zone of Law," Alyokhina told the news conference, ahead of a Monday evening screening of a documentary about Pussy Riot on the sidelines of the Berlinale.

Alyokhina added that "pressure is also being exerted on people," who support the women's endeavors, saying that the government kept their lawyer under round-the-clock surveillance and that police had interrogated other supporters and threatened them with "more problems."

"The goal of our organization is to make prison administrations know that they cannot just treat prisoners as they want with impunity," Alyokhina said.

Activists complain of conditions in Russia's jails, an issue that gained international prominence after the death of the whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky in suspicious circumstances while in captivity in 2009. Before his death, the lawyer had complained that prison officials denied him medical care in a bid to get him to confess to tax evasion. That death prompted the United States to pass the "Magnitsky Act' subjecting Russian officials implicated in the case to visa bans and asset freezes in the US.

"I consider the Magnitsky Act essential, and we would encourage European countries to do likewise," Alyokhina said. She called denying medicines to prisoners in Russia "not the exception but the rule."

'We never left'

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina also insisted that they remained part of the protest punk group after other members had apparently ejected them. Last week six Pussy Riot members accused the two women of undermining the group's ideals by appearing at a charity concert introduced by Madonna in New York.

"We never left Pussy Riot," Tolokonnikova said at the news conference. "I don't know who they are, these people who claim to be from Pussy Riot and write on social networks," she added.

A letter signed under pseudonyms by six women presenting themselves as members said they would no longer consider Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova part of the group. Posted on the group's blog, the letter complained that selling concert tickets contradicted the principles of Pussy Riot.

Tolokonnikova protested that such a claim "undermines" the very basic ideology of Pussy Riot: that anyone can be a member.

mkg/dr (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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