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Two members of Pussy Riot flee Russia
Women flee country to avoid prosecution for staging protest against President Putin at a cathedral altar.
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2012 00:03
Three Pussy Riot members were sentenced in August to two years in prison for performing the 'punk prayer' [Reuters]

Two members of the anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot have fled Russia to avoid prosecution for staging a protest against President Vladimir Putin at a church altar.

A Moscow court sentenced three members of the all-female opposition band to two years in prison on August 17 for staging a "punk prayer" at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February and calling on the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin.

Police said earlier this week they were searching for other members of the band.

"In regard to the pursuit, two of our members have successfully fled the country! They are recruiting foreign feminists to prepare new actions!," a Twitter account called Pussy Riot Group said on Sunday.

Defence lawyers of the convicted Pussy Riot members - Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich - are expected to appeal against their sentences next week.

Speaking with Al Jazeera, Pyotr Verzilov, Tolokonnikova's husband, said that he is "in contact with [the women] but so far they are keeping a very low profile and not commenting on their movements because the Russian police and special forces that work around the world are basically hunting them.

"We are planning to have them go to a safe place where Russian authorities will not have the legal rights to extradite them."

When asked about the remaining members of Pussy Riot still in Russia, Verzilov said: "It's actually quite a big creative team of 15-20 women.

"They vow to continue their protests, they will create new songs, perform new actions ... and do these bright political statements opposing Putin and his regime and obviously protesting the jailing of three Pussy Riot members who got brutal and very long prison sentences."

Madonna appeal

The sentence against the women drew sharp international criticism of the Russian government, while opposition groups at home have portrayed it as part of a Kremlin clampdown on dissent.

Moscow has dismissed criticism by Western governments and from prominent musicians, including Madonna and Sting, as politically motivated.

Putin, who returned to the presidency in May for his third presidential term, said before the three band members were sentenced that they should not be judged too harshly.

Under Russian law, the three Pussy Riot members put on trial could have faced as much as seven years' jail for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, but the prosecutors asked for three years and they were sentenced to two.

When asked about the women's appeal, Verzilov told Al Jazeera it would be filed the following week.

"Sources inside the government say the sentence might be changed somehow ... they might receive six months of a year less on their sentences," he said.

"We have our hopes ... but you can never expect what will happen next. This jail sentence is basically Putin signalling to the world that Russia is moving not even toward China but toward North Korea".

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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