Pussy Riot Freed From Prison, Promptly Call Amnesty a PR Stunt

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 23 2013 9:42 AM

Pussy Riot Freed From Prison, Promptly Call Amnesty a PR Stunt

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Maria Alyokhina, one of the jailed members of anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot is pictured after beeing freed in Nizhny Novgorod on December 23, 2013

Photo by Anastasiya Makarycheva/AFP/Getty Images

Two members of punk/protest collective Pussy Riot were released from Russian prison this morning as part of a sweeping Kremlin-backed amnesty law—and the pair wasted no time doing what they do best: criticizing Vladimir Putin.

Here's what Maria Alyokhina had to say upon her release from a prison in the western city of Nizhny Novgorod, where she had been serving a two-year sentence for staging a 30-second punk performance in a Moscow cathedral last year, via the New York Times:

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In a telephone interview on Monday, Ms. Alyokhina said that she did not want amnesty, and that officials had forced her to leave the prison. She said that the amnesty program was designed to make Mr. Putin look benevolent, and that she would have preferred to serve the remainder of her sentence.
“I think this is an attempt to improve the image of the current government, a little, before the Sochi Olympics — particularly for the Western Europeans,” she said, referring to the Winter Games Russia is hosting in February. “But I don’t consider this humane or merciful.” She added, “This is a lie.”
“We didn’t ask for any pardon,” Ms. Alyokhina said. “I would have sat here until the end of my sentence because I don’t need mercy from Putin.”

Alyokhina's fellow bandmate, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, offered a similar if shorter critique upon her release from the Siberian prison where she had been held, shouting "Russia without Putin" as she walked out of the prison gate. The pair had been jailed since March of last year and were set to have been released within the next three months even without the amnesty law. The third member of the group, Yekaterina Samutsevich, who had been convicted for the cathedral protest had previously seen her sentence overturned on appeal.

The sweeping, headline-grabbing amnesty law also spared a group of 30 Greenpeace activists from facing jail time for an Arctic protest, and freed one Putin's biggest political rivals. The high-profile releases were timed to mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of Russia's post-Communist constitution, although most observers saw the upcoming Sochi games—and the international spotlight that will come with it—as the bigger motivation behind the law.

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Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.