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Russia: Pussy Riot still want to oust Putin

Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, right, and Maria Alekhina at a news conference. Picture: AP

Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, right, and Maria Alekhina at a news conference. Picture: AP

  • by NATALIYA VASILYEVA
 

TWO members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, who spent nearly two years in jail for a protest in Moscow’s main cathedral, have said they still want to topple president Vladimir Putin.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 24, and Maria Alekhina, 25, were among three band members arrested after as brief, unauthorised performance in Christ The Saviour Cathedral in March 2012. Dressed in lurid balaclavas and holding microphones, they called on the Virgin Mary to protect Russia from Mr Putin who was on the verge of being elected to a third term in office.

All three were convicted of the catch-all charge of hooliganism. Tolokonnikova and Alekhina were released this week under an amnesty; the third member of the band, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released on a suspended sentence last year.

Visibly nervous, Tolokonnikova and Alekhina flew into Moscow early yesterday and held a two-hour news conference in the afternoon. Both insisted their release did not change their attitude to Mr Putin and his form of government.

“As for Vladimir Putin, we still feel the same about him,” Tolokonnikova said, referring to the chorus in their song, “Mother of God, drive Putin away.”

“We still want to do what we said in our last performance for which we spent two years in prison: drive him away.”

She added that “the scariest thing about Putin’s Russia is the impossibility to speak and be heard” and suggested former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was pardoned earlier this month after spending ten years in jail, would make a better president.

Tolokonnikova and Alekhina steered most of the questions toward speaking about their plans to form an organisation to help Russian prisoners. Tolokonnikova said Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny will help raise funds for the organisation.

In September, Tolokonnikova published a long letter from her penal colony detailing harsh conditions for inmates including long hours in the prison workshop.

Both women described Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who was expelled in 1976 and has been living in the UK since then, as their role-model. Tolokonnikova hailed him as a “human rights champion undeterred by fear”.

The band members rejected suggestions of playing shows in Russia or abroad, saying activism is more important to them. “We’re not going to give shows,” Alekhina said. “We’re just not interested.”

The two women lambasted the law adopted this year that bans so-called propaganda supporting non-traditional sexual orientations from being made available to minors.

Tolokonnikova reiterated her call to world leaders to boycott the Winter Olympics, to be held in Sochi in February, saying that visiting the Games would be a “political decision to support what Vladimir Putin is doing”.

“What is happening today – releasing people just a few months before their term expires – is a cosmetic measure,” she said.

“That includes the case of Khodorkovsky, who didn’t have much time left on his prison term. This is ridiculous.”

She said more people should be freed.

“I’m calling for a boycott, for honesty. I’m calling [on western nations] not to give in because of oil and gas deliveries from Russia.”

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