'Free Pussy Riot' Finally Comes True

Newly released member slams Russian amnesty as "a hoax and a PR move"

Pussy Riot, free, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, released from the Krasnoyarsk prison camp today, is the last Pussy Riot member to go free Photo by Pyotr Verzilov
Marc Hogan WRITTEN BY
Marc Hogan

In February 2012, Russian authorities arrested members of a riot grrrl-influenced band called Pussy Riot for staging a protest at a Moscow cathedral. The women of Pussy Riot became a cause célèbre, winning support from the likes of Madonna, Green Day, and the Beastie Boys' Ad-Rock, as well as being featured in the Oscar short-listed documentary Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer. Today, after all those "free Pussy Riot" hashtags and T-shirts, the last imprisoned group members walked free.

Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were released under a Russian amnesty law passed on December 18. Although Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the law marks the 20th anniversary of the Russian constitution, the move is generally seen as an attempt to defuse criticism about Russia's human rights history ahead of the February 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, as the AP notes. In public statements so far, Pussy Riot and their supporters harshly criticized the Russian amnesty as a phony stunt.

Alyokhina, who was released first, reportedly said she would've served her full term — set to end in March — if she had been given the option. "This is not an amnesty," she told Dozhd TV, as quoted by the AP. "This is a hoax and a PR move." Tolokonnikova, speaking to reporters outside a Siberian prison, also slammed the amnesty as a superficial pre-Olympic effort, according to the AP. (Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevitch was also convicted but got out last year on appeal.)

The Voice Project, a group that has raised more than $120,000 in support of Pussy Riot, likewise derided the Russian amnesty. "We all recognize that the whole amnesty program is a PR move by Putin, likely of course a bit of image clean up prior to the Olympics," said Hunter Heaney, the Voice Project's executive director. "Amnesty being 'granted' to two women put in prison for a 40-second song performance, who would have been released in a mere couple of months, after missing nearly two years with their young children and loved ones is, of course, absurd."

As part of the amnesty, Putin also pardoned former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky who had been Russia's richest man before defying Putin's authority led him to a decade in prison. Khodorkovsky, who went to Germany after his release, has said he will stay out of politics but vowed to stand up for other Russian political prisoners.

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