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Originally published December 22, 2013 at 10:23 PM | Page modified December 23, 2013 at 3:30 AM

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2 Pussy Riot members released from prison

Two jailed members of the Russian punk bank Pussy Riot were released Monday following an amnesty law that both of them described as Kremlin's public relations stunt ahead of the Winter Olympics.

Associated Press

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Two jailed members of the Russian punk bank Pussy Riot were released Monday following an amnesty law that both of them described as Kremlin's public relations stunt ahead of the Winter Olympics.

Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were granted amnesty law last week, which was largely viewed as the Kremlin's attempt to soothe criticism of Russia's human rights record ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.

The third member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released on suspended sentence months after all three were found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two years in prison for the performance at Moscow's main cathedral in March 2012.

The band members insisted their protest was meant to raise their concern about increasingly close ties between the state and the church.

Alekhina was released from the prison colony outside the Volga river city of Nizhny Novgorod on Monday morning, said Irina Khrunova, her lawyer.

Hours later, Tolokonnikova walked out of the prison in the Siberian town of Krasnoyarsk, and was met by dozens of journalists who had been waiting outside in the freezing cold. Tolokonnikova told reporters that she and Alekhina will form a group to engage in the human rights movement. She lambasted the amnesty as the Kremlin's window-dressing ahead of the Sochi Games.

Russian parliament passed the amnesty bill last week, allowing the release of thousands of inmates. Alekhina and Tolokonnikova qualify for amnesty because they have small children.

Alekhina's release comes days after President Vladimir Putin pardoned Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon and once Russia's richest man, who spent a decade in prison after challenging Putin's power. Khodorkovsky flew to Germany after release and said he will stay out of politics. He pledged, however, to fight for the release of political prisoners in Russia.

Alekhina told Dozhd TV channel that she was "too shocked" when she was released from the prison colony to grasp what was going on.

She also said she would have stayed behind bars to serve her term, which was to end in March if she was free to turn it down.

"I had a chance to turn it down, I would have done it, no doubt about that," she told Dozhd. "This is not an amnesty. This is a hoax and a PR move."

She said the amnesty bill covers less than 10 percent of the prison population and only a fraction of women with children behind bars. Women convicted of grave crimes, even if they have children, are not eligible for amnesty.

Alkhina complained that prison officials did not give her a chance to say goodbye to cell mates, but put her in a car and drove her to the train station in downtown Nizhny Novgorod.

Once at the train station, Alekhina drove away to meet with local human rights activists, Khrunova told The Associated Press.

In a cell phone picture posted online, Alekhina was seen wearing a dark green prison jacket with a sticker on her chest with her name on it.

Russia's Supreme Court earlier this month ordered a review of the Pussy Riot case, saying that a lower court did not fully prove their guilt and did not take their family circumstances into consideration when reaching the verdict.


Vasilyeva reported from Moscow.

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