Two Pussy Riot members go free in Russia

New prison amnesty seen by critics as attempt to ward off criticism of human rights record ahead of the Winter Olympics.

    The third member of the Russian punk bank Pussy Riot has been released from custody following an amnesty law passed by parliament.

    Nadezhda Tolokonnikova left the prison colony in the eastern Siberian city Krasnoyarsk on Monday, hours after another band member, Maria Alekhina, was released in another region.

    The amnesty that enabled their release is seen as the Kremlin's attempt to soothe criticism of Russia's human rights record ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.

    Russian lawmakers last week approved the Kremlin-backed amnesty bill, which commemorates 20 years since Russia ratified its current constitution.

    Alyokhina, 25, and Tolokonnikova, 24, were convicted of hooliganism for performing a crude "punk prayer" in a cathedral against Putin's ties to the Russian Orthodox church.

    The two women had been due for release in March, but qualified for the amnesty proposed by Putin, in part because both are mothers of small children. A third band member had her sentence suspended earlier this year.

    'Cynical game'

    Lawyers say the amnesty will also enable 30 people arrested in a Greenpeace protest against Arctic oil drilling to avoid trial - removing an irritant in ties with the West before Russia hosts the Winter Olympics in February.

    Putin has said the amnesty was not drafted with the Greenpeace activists or Pussy Riot in mind.

    Tolokonnikova's father Andrei told the Reuters news agency on Thursday that the planned release of the band members was clearly a public-relations move ahead of the Olympics.

    "It is an absolutely cynical game of the central authorities," he said while awaiting her release from jail in the Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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