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one Pussy Riot member freed; the other two remain in prison

Pussy Riot’s Yekaterina Samutsevich out of jail

Good news from the Pussy Riot saga:

An appellate court in Moscow on Wednesday set free one of three jailed members of a punk protest band but upheld the two-year prison sentences of her band mates, issuing a split decision in a case that has drawn international condemnation of Russia over the suppression of political speech.

The ruling, by a three-judge panel of Moscow City Court, upheld the guilty verdict against all three women on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, stemming from a “punk prayer” performance in the city’s main cathedral last February in which they urged the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Vladimir V. Putin.

The judges, however, ordered the immediate release of one of the women, Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, accepting an argument by her new lawyer that she had far less of a role in the cathedral stunt than her band mates, and that the lower-court judge who convicted the women in August should have taken that into account.

“The method of punishment in the form of imprisonment is to be canceled,” said the judge, Yury A. Pasyunin, reading the court’s decision, reached after a half-hour break to consider the arguments. “Samutsevich is to be released from custody.” She emerged from the courthouse less than an hour later to applause from supporters, clutching her father, tears streaking her face.

The appeals hearing, originally scheduled for last week, had been delayed after Ms. Samutsevich, citing disagreement over legal strategy, announced that she wanted to fire her lawyer and separate her defense from the team representing the other two women in the band, Pussy Riot.

The other women, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Maria Alyokhina, 24 — both mothers of young children — were ordered to serve the remainder of their original sentences, two years in a prison colony. Their lawyers promised continuing appeals. – [NY Times]

One free, two to go.

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