Two members of Pussy Riot the Russian Punk Band were released from jail on Monday following a new amnesty law that both described as a public relations stunt by the Kremlin ahead of February’s Winter Olympics.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina were both granted amnesty last week. Many consider the law a way for the Kremlin to soothe much criticism over its human rights record prior to the start of the Sochi Olympics next February.
Another member, Yekaterina Samutsevich had been released earlier on a sentence that had been suspended. The three were convicted of hooliganism that was motivated by religious hatred. Each was sentenced to 24 months behind bars for entering a cathedral in Moscow and performing inside.
The members of the band insisted the protest had been to raise concern about the close ties between the church and state.
Officials released Alekhina from a prison colony near Nizhny Novgorod near the Volga River on Monday.
A couple of hours later, officials let Tolokonnikova walk out of her prison in Krasnoyarsk in Siberia. She was met by a number of journalists who waited for her in the bitter cold.
Tolokonnikova told the reporters that she and her band member friend Alekhina would form a group for human rights. She said her amnesty was just window dressing prior the Olympics.
Parliament members in Russia passed the new bill on amnesty last week, allowing thousands of prisoners to go free. The two women had qualified for amnesty because each has small children.
The release of the two band members comes only days after Mikhail Khodorkovsky was pardoned by Vladimir Putin the Russian President. The former oil baron spent a decade behind bars after he challenged the power of Putin.
The former CEO of Yukos Oil once the country’s richest person flew to Germany following his release.
He said he would not enter politics in his home country and that he will spend his time helping to gain the release of other political prisoners behind bars in Russia.
Alekhina told reporters that she would have refused amnesty if she could have. She said she would have rather served her entire sentence until next March because she believes the move by the Russian Parliament was a hoax and nothing more.