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Music

Russian MPs approve amnesty for Pussy Riot

Russian MPs have supported an amnesty which will see several political prisoners released from jail, among them two members of punk band Pussy Riot. But President Vladimir Putin points out the decision was not his.

The State Duma in Moscow recently approved the amnesty, which is expected to come into force within the next few days. It's said to cover at least 20,000 prisoners, including protestors from Greenpeace who attempted to board a Russian oil rig in the Barents Sea and two members of Pussy Riot.

The politically active, anti-government punk band made international headlines in 2012. Wearing colorful balaclavas, they filmed around 40 seconds of material in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior for their song "Punk Prayer: Mother of God Drive Putin Away." Church authorities called on the government to criminalize blasphemy, and three members of the group were arrested on charges of hooliganism.

Nadeschda Tolokonnikowa 26.04.2013

Nadeschda Tolokonnikova smuggled out a letter describing harsh prison conditions

All three pleaded not guilty but were sentenced to two years in a penal colony. Yekaterina Samutsevich had her sentence suspended, but both Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were incarcerated with the aim of being instructed in good manners in prison.

While public opinion in Russia over the sentencing was largely indifferent, internationally the girls became a cause célèbre due to what was perceived as their overly harsh treatment. A number of high profile celebrities spoke out in support of Pussy Riot, including singer Björk, actor Elijah Wood and Berlin-based punk musician Peaches, who recorded a tribute track to raise awareness of the girls' plight.

Harsh prison conditions

In prison the young activists were harassed by camp authorities and mobbed by cellmates. Both attempted to fight back. Alyokhina first went on hunger strike and then asked to be placed in solitary confinement. Tolokonnikova managed to smuggle out a letter describing cruel conditions and a sophisticated system of humiliation. According to latest reports, Tolokonnikova is also said to have contracted tuberculosis.

The amnesty marks the 20th anniversary of Russia's post-Soviet constitution. But even in the momentary atmosphere of tolerance, President Vladimir Putin shows no remorse for the incarcerated Pussy Riot members.

Wladimir Putin Präsident Russland Moskau PK Pressekonferenz 19.12.2013

Vladimir Putin: no sympathy for Pussy Riot musicians

"They exceeded all limits," he told 1300 national and international journalists at a press conference in Moscow, "I am sorry because they have sunk so low. It demeans them as women."

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina - whose sentences were set to come to an end in three months - are due to be collected by their lawyers from penal colonies in Mordovia and Perm Oblast in the coming days.

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