A Moscow court has freed one member of the punk band Pussy Riot, but upheld prison sentences for the other two.
The female trio were found guilty in August of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for storming into Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in February and staging a performance criticising president Vladimir Putin.
Maria Alyokhina, 24, Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, were each sentenced to two years behind bars for taking part in a protest.
However, at an appeal hearing on Wednesday, the court decided to give Samustsevic a suspended sentence because she did not stand on the altar during the protest.
The release of Samutsevich was a major surprise but came after at the first appeals hearing on October 1 she announced she was changing her lawyer.
Outside court a dazed Samutsevich said she was happy to be freed but also sad for her band mates who would remain in jail.
“Of course, I am glad but I am upset because of the girls, that their sentences have not been changed,” she said.
Judge Larisa Polyakova ruled “to leave Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova’s sentences without changes” while bowing to the appeal filed on behalf of Samutsevich, who was judged not to have actually been involved in the “Punk Prayer”.
“This is of course unexpected,” Samutsevich’s father Stanislav said after the ruling. “This is a great happiness.”
But he added: “On the one hand, I am very glad. On the other hand, I am disappointed by the decision in relation to the other girls.”
In emotional scenes, the three women hugged before Samutsevich was led out of the glass-paned courtroom cage to freedom.
Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova are expected to be sent to prison colonies, likely far from Moscow.
“We will not stay silent even if we are in Siberia,” Alyokhina said.
Earlier the punk group members defiantly maintained their innocence, telling the court their cathedral stunt was aimed at Mr Putin and not religious believers.
Source: ABC (Australia)