Jailed Pussy Riot Member’s Husband Pessimistic About Early Release

'Things are quite heated now,' says Pyotr Verzilov, husband of one of the imprisoned band members.

Pyotr Verzilov would like nothing more than to have his wife Nadia home again.

But two months after three members of the Russian punk collective Pussy Riot were found guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and sentenced to two years in prison, Verzilov’s other half, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, remains behind bars and he’s increasingly pessimistic about her chances of being released anytime soon.

The Moscow city court was slated to review the women’s sentence on October 1 and when MTV News talked to Verzilov before the hearing, he said things had gotten a bit testy between the free speech-advocating punkers and the Russian court apparatus.

“Things are quite heated now,” said Verzilov before the hearing, which has since been pushed back until October 10. “The man who is formerly #2 in Russia, [Dmitry] Medvedev, he joined the Free Pussy Riot campaign. He started saying that the sentence was disproportionate … ‘the girls should not go to prison, they should be free, let’s let them go [and choose something else].’ ”

Medvedev, a close associate of Russian president Vladimir Putin, served as president of Russia from 2008 to 2012, stepping down in order to make way for Putin to ascend to the position once again this year. Medvedev is currently the Russian Prime Minister and he’s widely perceived as a more liberal leader than his predecessor, Putin. Still, even during Medvedev’s presidential term, Putin was thought to have a strong, unseen hand in guiding him. Putin won his latest presidential election in March, but riots broke out after some of the country’s opposition leaders suspected that he did so thanks to perceived irregularities. The Pussy Riot protest took place during and just after Putin’s presidential campaign.

While everyone from Madonna to Green Day, Björk, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Sir Paul McCartney have rallied to their side, current Russian prime minister Medvedev was an unlikely ally for the punk rockers.

But a funny thing happened on the way to freedom. Verzilov said that although Medvedev’s comments were surprising and raised hope, in the end he doesn’t think the former Russian president pulls that much weight anymore. “We don’t think he’s much of a man inside the system, so basically we have really low hopes that anything will change and we think everything’s going to stay as it is.”

Most distressingly, Verzilov said that Tolokonnikova could be moved to another gulag-style prison camp 500 miles from Moscow without any prior notice the day after the appeal is lodged. “A place in the middle of nowhere and these things are really scary,” he said of the three-day trip to the remote holding facility. As it is, Verzilov and the couple’s four-year-old daughter, Gera, have had few opportunities to see Tolokonnikova since she was imprisoned and he fears that a move to an even more remote facility would put her out of reach entirely. “It really does feel sometimes like you’re in this bad post-war movie, but for some reason everything is too real.”

The three were arrested on February 21 after five Pussy Riot members staged an impromptu demonstration in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, in which they stormed the soleas (or sanctuary), crossed themselves, and performed a “punk prayer” that asked the Virgin Mary to rid the country of president Vladimir Putin. They then spent more than five months in detention as they awaited trial.

On the eve of this year’s 2012 MTV Video Music Awards, the group released a 90-second video showing the remaining members unfurling a massive banner thanking Madonna, Björk, the Chili Peppers and Green Day for their solidarity.

As they await word of their fate, the group’s members were honored along with Lady Gaga on Tuesday (October 9) night at this year’s LennonOno Grant for Peace Award. The ceremony was slated to take place in Reykjavik, Iceland, but late Beatle John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, presented the award for Pussy Riot to Verzilov a few week early in a special ceremony in New York last month.

Tuesday also marked the release of the free song “Free Pussy Riot” by Bikini Kill member Tobi Vail and the Pussy Riot Olympia Solidarity Band. The churning punk song name-checks the imprisoned PR members and includes the lyrical call-to-arms “We are all you/You are all us/Death to prison/Freedom to protest/Free Pussy Riot.”

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