Pussy Riot Rockers, Convicted of ‘Religious Hatred,’ Are Released From Russian Prison

In February of last year, the Russian punk band Pussy Riot staged an impromptu performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

Their actions were stopped by church security officials. By evening, they had turned it into a music video entitled “Punk Prayer — Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!” The women said their protest was directed at the Orthodox Church leader’s support for [Russian president Vladimir] Putin during his election campaign.

In Putin’s ever-more autocratic Russia, where nationalism mixes with increased religiosity, this was a provocation that couldn’t stand. In August of 2012, three members of Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years behind bars for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility.” Yekaterina Samutsevich was released within months, but Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina had to wait until yesterday to walk free again (some sources are reporting that, although the pardon is official, the pair haven’t actually been let out of prison just yet).

Pussy Riot (Natalia Kolesnikova – AFP/GettyImages)

From NBC News:

Two jailed members of the punk band Pussy Riot will be freed under an amnesty that will also see the release of 30 environmental activists, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday, eliminating two points of tension with the West as the country gets set to host the Winter Olympics. …

“I feel sorry for Pussy Riot not for the fact that they were jailed, but for disgraceful behavior that has degraded the image of women,” Putin said during his annual and wide-ranging televised news conference.

The affair degraded the image of Russia as a halfway respectable state, is more like it. Rolling Stone notes that the Pussy Riot case

… drew international attention, with the likes of Paul McCartney, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sting, Bruce Springsteen and more calling on Russia to release the Pussy Riot protesters.

NBC once more:

Putin says the amnesty proposal for jailed members of the punk group Pussy Riot celebrates the 20th anniversary of Russia’s post-Soviet constitution in addition to making the country’s criminal penitentiary system more merciful.

Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 24, and Maria Alyokhina, 25, who are serving a two-year sentences for a crude “punk prayer” against Putin and the Russian Orthodox church in Moscow’s main cathedral had been due for release in March but are now expected to be freed sooner under the amnesty.

It’s doubtful that Pussy Riot would have been punished with more than a fine or a symbolically brief jail sentence if the band had trespassed in a shopping center or … well, any other building than a church. That the women are freed only three months before the official sentence ends isn’t much of a reprieve, and hardly a great show of mercy — but let’s be grateful for small, um, blessings.

If and when Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina do post-release interviews, we’ll share what they have to say right here.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.


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