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Pussy Riot member urges Sochi Games boycott

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-23

A member of the anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot, released from prison on Monday following an amnesty announced last week by Russian President Vladimir Putin, urged countries to boycott the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Maria Alyokhina (pictured), one of two members of the band released on Monday, used her first interview to slam the amnesty as a mere “PR stunt", and said that she would have preferred to remain in prison but wasn't given a choice.

"If I had a choice to refuse (the amnesty), I would have, without a doubt," the 25-year-old told Dozhd television channel.

If the amnesty were wider, she said, Western countries could view it as a reason not to boycott the Olympic Games. "As it stands, I appeal for a boycott, I appeal for honesty, I appeal for not being bought for oil and gas," she said.

Alyokhina and band-mate Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were released two months early under a Kremlin-backed amnesty after serving most of their two-year sentences.

The pair, who both have small children, and fellow activist Yekaterina Samutsevich were convicted on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after staging a "punk prayer" in an Orthodox cathedral in Moscow in February 2012.

During the event, they asked the Virgin Mary to get rid of President Vladimir Putin.

‘Russia is built on the model of a penal colony’

Alyokhina was quietly whisked away from her prison colony in the city of Nizhny Novgorod while Tolokonnikova, 24, emerged in style and faced a media scrum a few hours later from a prison hospital in Krasnoyarsk in Siberia.

Wearing fishnet stockings despite temperatures of minus 25 degrees C (-13 F) and hair perfectly coiffed, Tolokonnikova said her prison time only made her more resolute in opposing Putin's rule.

"I don't consider this time wasted," the brunette said. "I became older, I saw the state from within, I saw this totalitarian machine as it is."

"Russia is built on the model of a penal colony and that is why it is so important to change the penal colonies today to change Russia," she said.

She pledged to defend prisoners' rights along with band-mate Alyokhina, saying "we would like to pursue a joint project together.

"Right now we will be discussing the structure and format of this project," Tolokonnikova said in an interview with Echo of Moscow radio.

‘I am not sorry, I am proud of what we did’

The two women were freed three days after the shock release of anti-Kremlin tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who spent more than a decade behind bars.

Alyokhina's release was marked by the same kind of security as the secret operation that freed Khodorkovsky, who was not seen after his release until he touched down at a Berlin airport on Friday afternoon.

She was taken away from the prison without saying goodbye to her fellow inmates and eventually made her way to the offices of local NGO Committee Against Torture to discuss violations at the colony.

Still wearing prison garb, Alyokhina said she had no regrets. "I am not sorry, I am proud of what we did."

If the chance arose to stage the church stunt again, "we would sing the song to the end," she said. "You have to listen to the whole thing, not just the first verse."

Rebels with a cause

The Pussy Riot's "punk prayer" was staged just prior to Putin's re-election to the Kremlin in March 2012 and was aimed at denouncing the Orthodox Church's support of the Russian strongman during the campaign.

The group also released a video clip of their performance which is now banned.

All three were arrested in early March 2012. Samutsevich was later freed on appeal with a suspended sentence, but Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were sent to faraway penal colonies.

Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova, whose sentences would have run out in early March, were granted the amnesty last week after parliament approved a Kremlin-backed bill.

Their jailing turned them from little-known feminist punks who staged a handful of guerrilla performances in Moscow to the stars of a global cause celebre symbolising the repression of civil dissent under Putin.

They received support from luminaries ranging from Madonna to Yoko Ono to Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

The case also polarised Russian society, with Orthodox conservatives getting into fights with Pussy Riot supporters during the trial, and even staging rallies of their own.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2013-12-23

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