Skip to main content

Imprisoned Pussy Riot band members released

By Jethro Mullen. Diana Magnay and Jason Hanna, CNN
updated 1:39 PM EST, Mon December 23, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova says she believes her release is pre-Olympics publicity stunt
  • Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, jailed for performance critical of Putin, released
  • Tolokonnikova's husband says they have only been spared a small part of their sentence
  • Last week, Russian lawmakers backed a sweeping amnesty law

(CNN) -- Two members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, who were serving two-year jail terms for their part in a performance critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin, have been released from prison.

Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were released about two months before their prison sentences were due to end. The release was approved last week when Russian lawmakers backed a sweeping amnesty law announced by Putin.

"Two months out of the almost two years that the girls have served is not much," Tolokonnikova's husband, Pyotr Verzilov, told CNN. "So the effect of this amnesty for Maria and Nadezhda is not really felt."

The Russian government said the amnesty marked the anniversary of the adoption of Russia's post-Communist constitution in 1993.

Pussy Riot member released from jail
Pussy Riot members to be released?
Pussy Riot members' hunger strikes

But Tolokonnikova, released from a Siberian facility on Monday, told CNN she felt that the amnesty was a publicity stunt to bolster the government's image before it hosts the Winter Olympics in February. Verzilov said much the same.

"President Putin obviously used this amnesty option to (brighten) up his image before the Olympic games," Verzilov said.

Russia's record on human rights is in the spotlight as the country prepares to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Pussy Riot's 2012 performance of a "punk prayer" that criticized Putin, who was prime minister at the time, was held at a Russian Orthodox cathedral. The musicians were found guilty of hooliganism.

Tolokonnikova went on a hunger strike during her prison term to protest what she said were poor conditions at a Mordovian prison. In October, she was transferred to a Siberian facility for medical treatment, and she remained there until her release Monday.

She said Monday that she is eager to help Russian prisoners by calling attention to conditions they face. But first, she said, she is looking forward to reuniting with family, including her 5-year-old daughter in Moscow.

In a lengthy letter in September to the news site Lenta (a translated version was published in London's The Guardian), Tolokonnikova described "slave labor" and unsanitary conditions in which women work through sickness and injury for up to 17 hours a day and are beaten -- or worse -- for failing to complete their duties.

Tolokonnikova wrote that her life was once threatened and other prisoners told her she was not beaten only because of the celebrity her case has brought her. Others are not so lucky, she said.

Prison authorities told state news agency RIA Novosti then that Tolokonnikova was blackmailing them for denying her request for special treatment.

Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova have young children and therefore qualified for the amnesty, Russian media reported.

The new amnesty law is also expected to free some detained Greenpeace activists.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon and Kremlin critic, was released from a lengthy period in prison last week after a pardon from Putin. Khodorkovsky had been in prison since 2003 and was convicted in 2005 of tax evasion and fraud. He was due for release next year.

CNN's Alla Eshchenko, Laura Smith-Spark and Yousuf Basil contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:59 PM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson says he was just doing his "job right" when he shot and killed black teenager Michael Brown.
updated 8:18 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
The interior of the Formosa Boulevard Mass Rapid Transit Station in Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan.
Stunning stations where your first priority won't be finding the nearest exit.
updated 6:18 PM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says women's "nature is different," sparking fury.
updated 5:43 AM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
A 30-year-old woman has been charged with attempting to kill a baby police say spent five days down a drain before being discovered by cyclists.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
If it wasn't for a comic's skit, Bill Cosby would still be America's favorite father, says expert.
updated 7:51 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
Where do hip young things hang out in Taiwan?
updated 10:50 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Obama orders the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration in decades, prioritizing the deportation of "felons, not families."
updated 4:06 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Fighters loyal to ISIS are now in control of Derna, a city on Libya's Mediterranean coast.
updated 6:19 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
China and likely other countries have the capacity to shut down the U.S. power grid, says the NSA.
updated 2:45 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
The founder of a U.S. nonprofit that works with returning soldiers is named CNN's Hero of the Year.
updated 10:57 AM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT