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Will Pussy Riot Fight Putin's Amnesty and Remain in Prison?

Written by Kevin Rothrock On 22 December 2013 @ 21:35 pm | 2 Comments

In Arts & Culture, Breaking News, Citizen Media, Eastern & Central Europe, Economics & Business, English, Freedom of Speech, Law, Politics, RuNet Echo, Russia, Russian

Pussy Riot's Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, depicted as the undeterred-by-prison music duo The Blues Brothers. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

Pussy Riot's Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, depicted as the undeterred-by-prison music duo The Blues Brothers. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

The holidays are near, the Russian Constitution is twenty years old, and the prison gates are flying open. Following the federal government’s resolution to amnesty roughly 25 thousand people accused or convicted of small crimes under extenuating circumstances, Russia will soon set free many of its most famous political captives. This is in addition to Vladimir Putin’s surprising decision to pardon long-time prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Things in Russia are moving quickly this week. Khodorkovsky is already abroad, thrilling journalists in Berlin with his thoughts about the iPad. Maria Baronova and some (though not all) of her fellow “Bolotnaya” suspects are no longer dangling over the fire of possible prison time. Freedom should also soon extend to the two-dozen Greenpeace activists arrested aboard the Arctic Sunrise in mid-September, during a protest against oil drilling.

The other famous Russian political prisoners expected to walk out of jail next week are the two Pussy Riot members still behind bars: Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. The latter’s husband, jetsetter Petr Verzilov, has divided his time recently between Kiev, where he’s reported [1] [ru] on Ukraine’s EuroMaidan protests, and the Krasnoyarsk prison hospital where Tolokonnikova has resided for several weeks, after her transfer from a jail in Mordovia.

Since the government officially announced the amnesty program on December 18, 2013, Verzilov and Tolokonnikova’s grandmother have waited for state authorities to release Nadezhda. In an appearance [2] [ru] on the opposition-leaning television station Dozhd, Tolokonnikova’s grandmother was asked to compare her granddaughter to Russia’s other most famous prisoner, Khodorkovsky. In response, she called Putin a “thin-skinned man,” arguing that such court cases reveal that the President is unable to forgive what he views sensitively as “a slap in the face.”

Verzilov didn’t exactly radiate gratitude, either. In a tweet on December 19, 2013, he downplayed Putin’s clemency, pointing out that Tolokonnikova and Alekhina have been in state custody since March 2012:

With a grand tsarist wave of his hand, Putin loves to free political prisoners at the end of their sentences: he shaved off two months from two years for Masha [Alekhina] and Nadya [Tolokinnikova], and six months from eleven years for MBK [Mikhail Khodorkovsky].

Comparisons between Khodorkovsky and Pussy Riot are only natural. Their trials captivated much of the world as litmus tests of Russia’s business climate and cultural atmosphere, respectively. There are obvious differences, too, of course. Khodorkovsky spent more than five times longer in prison, enduring not one but two drawn-out court cases. When rumors of a third set of charges began circulating, it seems the former oil tycoon finally relented and agreed to make peace with Putin.

The manner in which Khodorkovsky was freed also seems to differ from what awaits Tolokonnikova and Alekhina, who have signaled some unwillingness to leave prison early. In fact, last week, Tolokonnikova implied [4] [ru] to her lawyer that she might be unavailable to leave jail early, as she has joined a new band in prison and committed to a music tour of Krasnoyarsk’s penitentiaries. “There’s a great guitar here,” Tolokonnikova reportedly explained, adding, “and there’s a drum set, and we sing, and we play.”

In what could be a more serious challenge to Russia’s effort to jettison its rockstar political prisoners, Maria Alekhina apparently told her friend, Taisia Polyakova, that she fears for the safety of her fellow prisoners in her absence, and is exploring legal options [5] [ru] to “avoid the amnesty” and remain in jail.

How will Russians react to this latest news from Pussy Riot? Will they receive the band’s reluctance to abandon its inmate friends as a heroic gesture, or see it as an expedient bid to steal back the spotlight from Khodorkovsky, whose unexpected release threatens to overshadow the musicians’ homecoming?

Update: on Monday, December 23, 2013, both Alekhina and Tolokonnikova were released from prison, despite the comments described above. Alekhina, for her part, did tell reporters that she would have remained in prison [6] [ru], had it been legally possible to refuse the government's amnesty.

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URLs in this post:

[1] reported: http://slon.ru/russia/stoit_podmerzshiy_rasteryannyy_berkut_a_lyudi_vse_pribyvayut_i_pribyvayut-1032666.xhtml

[2] appearance: http://tvrain.ru/articles/babushka_nadezhdy_tolokonnikovoj_fsin_ej_budet_mstit_za_pisma_i_otkrovenija-359275/

[3] December 19, 2013: https://twitter.com/gruppa_voina/statuses/413744364930998272

[4] implied: http://www.bbc.co.uk/russian/russia/2013/12/131216_tolokonnikova_hospital.shtml

[5] exploring legal options: http://tvrain.ru/articles/marija_alehina_ne_hochet_vyhodit_iz_kolonii_po_amnistii-359312/

[6] would have remained in prison: http://tvrain.ru/articles/esli_by_mogla_ja_by_otkazalas_ot_miloserdija_putina_intervju_marii_alehinoj_dozhdju_srazu_posle_osvobozhdenija-359324/

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