Pussy Riot Members Set for Release as Early as Thursday

6:18 AM PST 12/18/2013 by Nick Holdsworth
Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokinnokova

UPDATED: The two jailed members of the punk band are expected to walk free after the Russian parliament passed an amnesty bill ordered by Vladimir Putin.

MOSCOW – Jailed Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina are expected to be released as early as Thursday under an amnesty marking the 20th anniversary of Russia's post-Soviet Constitution, which the Russian parliament passed Wednesday.

The release of the two women, both mothers of young children, would come four months before they were due to be released in March from Siberian labor camps.

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The move follows a rapid series of developments in the past week, starting with a formal ruling by Russia's Supreme Court that the two-year sentences imposed in August last year by a Moscow court were illegal.

President Vladimir Putin announced the amnesty, which observers see as an attempt to soothe critics of Russia's human rights record ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi early next year.

Last week, the country’s top court ruled that the women's status as mothers was not taken into account, nor was the fact that they were first-time offenders who had not committed a violent crime.

In a gesture to mark the two decades since Russia adopted a new constitution in 1993, Putin announced a bill offering amnesties for people convicted of non-violent crimes.

Russian lawmakers on Wednesday voted unanimously, 446-0, in favor of the amnesty. The bill could go into effect as early as Thursday.

The plight of the women has been the focus of international protests and appeals for clemency by show business figures including Paul McCartney and Madonna.

The Pussy Riot pair should be freed Thursday, prison officials in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, where Tolokinnokiva is being held, and Nizhny Novgorod, where Alykhina is incarcerated, said today. Tolokinnokova's husband, Pyotr Verzilov, said on Twitter that the women had been promised freedom "right away and without bureaucratic delay, probably tomorrow."

Greenpeace's 'Arctic 30' activists, arrested for piracy in the Barents Sea in September during a protest against Arctic gas exploration, will also go free. Initial charges carrying 15-year terms were reduced to hooliganism, with a maximum sentence of seven years. The 26 foreigners among the 30 could now be home in time for Christmas with their families.

The amnesty does not require approval by the upper chamber of parliament and will go into effect when it is officially published, probably later on Wednesday.

The Pussy Riot women have been serving time after being convicted of  "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" for performing a 40-second anti-Putin “punk prayer” at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in February 2012.

Tolokonnikova is currently in a prison hospital near Krasnoyarsk, more than 1,000 miles east of Moscow. Her lawyers won't reveal her illness but deny reports that she is suffering from tuberculosis.

Alokhyina was initially sent to prison in the Urals before being transferred to Nizhny Novgorod.

A third member of the group, Yekaterina Samutsevitch, also convicted for her part in the case, was released last year on appeal. Both Tolonnikova and Alokhyina saw repeated appeals rejected.

 

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