Pussy Riot Member Freed While Two Bandmates Remain In Prison

Appeals court judge issues suspended sentence for Yekaterina Samutsevich.

The members of Russian punk collective Pussy Riot finally got their day in court on Wednesday (October 10), where a Moscow City judge upheld the two-year jail sentences for two of the them and issued a suspended sentence for a third.

The split decision meant that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Maria Alyokhina, 24, would remain behind bars, while Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30 is slated for release.

According to an Associated Press report, the punk rockers said they were not attempting to insult when they performed a “punk prayer” on February 21 in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. During the protest they stormed the soleas (or sanctuary), crossed themselves and asked the Virgin Mary to rid the country of president Vladimir Putin. Three of the collective’s five members were arrested at the time and spent more than five months in detention as they awaited trial.
The trio were found guilty 
 of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and sentenced to two years in prison in August.

CNN reported that Samutsevich was freed because she was stopped by a guard on her way into the church and was not on hand for the performance of the prayer.

“We didn’t mean to offend anyone,” Alyokhina said during Wednesday’s court appearance as she sat alongside her comrades inside a glass cage known as the “aquarium.” She explained that their protest was against Putin, but also aimed at the Russian Orthodox Church leadership for openly supporting his rule.

“We went to the cathedral to express our protest against the joining of the political and spiritual elites,” Alyokhina said.

Putin, who was re-elected to the presidency earlier this year after being forced from the position in 2008 due to term limits recently said the court ruled correctly in the case because, “It is impermissible to undermine our moral foundations, moral values, to try to destroy the country.”

According to the AP, defense lawyers for the trio said those remarks amounted to pressure on the appeals court to uphold the two-year jail terms. “I want a ruling on President Putin on the inadmissibility of his meddling in a court decision,” defense lawyer Mark Feigin said during Wednesday’s hearing.

While the church suggested the appeals court could show leniency on the sentences if the three women repented, the defendants said on Wednesday that they could not repent because they “harbored no religious hatred and had committed no crime.” Instead, they demanded again that their convictions be overturned.

“The idea of the protest was political, not religious,” Samutsevich said. “In this and in previous protests we acted against the current government of the president, and against the Russian Orthodox Church as an institution of the Russian government, against the political comments of the Russian patriarch. Exactly because of this I don’t consider that I committed a crime.”

The AP reported that the judge in the case repeatedly interrupted the defendants when their statements turned political, but they continued to express their opinions. “We will not be silent. And even if we are in Mordovia or Siberia (where prisoners in Russia are often sent to serve out their terms) we won’t be silent,” Alyokhina said.

Tolokonnikova’s husband, Pyotr Verzilov, recently told MTV News 
 that he was worried his wife might not be released following Wednesday’s hearing. “The man who is formerly #2 in Russia, [Dmitry] Medvedev, he joined the Free Pussy Riot campaign,” Verzilov said of the country’s former president and current prime minister, who has called for a reduction in the women’s sentence. “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].’”

While everyone from Madonna to Green Day, Bjö, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Sir Paul McCartney have rallied to their side, Medvedev was an unlikely ally for the punk rockers. Verzilov said that although Medvedev’s comments were surprising and raised hope, in the end he feared the former president might not pull enough weight to free the trio.

His biggest immediate concern, though, was that Tolokonnikova could be moved to another gulag-style prison camp 500 miles from Moscow without any prior notice the day after the appeal was 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.”

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, Bjö, the Chili Peppers and Green Day for their solidarity.

Tolokonnikova appealed to her fellow Russians for understanding on Wednesday. “I don’t consider myself guilty,” she said, according to the AP. “But again I ask all those who are listening to me for the last time: I don’t want people to be angry at me: Yes, I’m going to prison, but I don’t want anyone to think that there is any hatred in me.”

There was no word at press time about a possible move to another facility for Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina.

Often guilty, never convicted. Serving 15 years to life at MTV News.