But the Moscow court which released Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, member of the Pussy Riot band, said the other two women got the jail terms they deserved.
Ms Samutsevich had been held for six months. The appeal judge suspended her two-year jail sentence but said co-protesters Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina – both mothers of young children –should serve out their terms in a penal colony.
“I have mixed feelings,” Ms Samutsevich said outside the court, where she was greeted by applause from a crowd of about 150 people in the rain. “I’m happy, of course, but I am upset about the girls.”
Her lawyer told the court she had not performed the “punk protest” near the altar of Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February because she had been led away before it took place.
Her father, Stanislav, said his daughter would now rest but would return to Moscow to “fight for the rest of the girls”.
Defence lawyers, relatives of the women and rights activists including the chairman of Mr Putin’s own presidential human rights council, Mikhail Fedotov, criticised the split ruling. “All three of those convicted in this case could certainly be given suspended sentences and that would be right,” Mr Fedotov said.
In emotional statements from a courtroom cage during the appeal hearing, women from the band said they had not meant to offend the faithful but to criticise Mr Putin, accused of a crackdown on dissent since starting a new term at the Kremlin in May.
“We’ll be going to a prison colony while civil war is brewing in this country. Putin is doing everything to make this happen,” Ms Tolokonnikova said, raising her voice to drown out a judge who interrupted when she mentioned Mr Putin’s name. “He is setting people against each other.”
Tolokonnikova, 22, Alyokhina, 24, and Ms Samutsevich were convicted in August of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for a “punk prayer” imploring the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Mr Putin, and sentenced to two years in jail.
The case sparked an international outcry, with western governments and pop star Madonna condemning the sentences as disproportionate, a view not widely shared in Russia.
In an interview on Sunday to mark his 60th birthday, Mr Putin said: “It is right that they were arrested and it was right that the court took this decision because you cannot undermine the fundamental morals and values to destroy the country”.
Defence lawyer Mark Feigin said those comments had compromised the appeal.
“We did not want to offend believers,” Ms Alyokhina told the court. “We came to the cathedral to speak out against the merger between spiritual figures and the political elite.”
After the ruling, Mr Feigin said Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina would continue to fight their conviction. He said the only difference between what the women did in the cathedral was that Ms Samutsevich spent 15 seconds at the altar compared with 45 seconds for his clients.