Pussy Riot case: One defendant freed in Russia

Yekaterina Samutsevich was mobbed by friends, family and supporters as she left court

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A Moscow court has freed one of the convicted women from the punk band Pussy Riot but upheld two-year jail terms for the other two.

There were cheers in court when the two-year jail term of Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, was suspended.

Earlier the trio spoke defiantly at the appeal hearing, saying their protest song was political and not anti-Church.

In August they were jailed for staging an anti-Kremlin protest in Moscow's main cathedral, Christ the Saviour.

Samutsevich, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, were found guilty of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred".

Their imprisonment sparked widespread international condemnation.

At the scene

Sitting inside a glass cage, surrounded by bailiffs in black uniforms, the three Pussy Riot members looked depressed and exhausted, but even more defiant than before.

All three said they would not "repent" as the Church demanded they should do.

Ekaterina Samutsevich stressed there was no split in the group, and reiterated her opposition to Vladimir Putin. Relatives and lawyers also denied any split.

Once freed, Samutsevich had to break through the media scrum and literally run away from journalists. She jumped into a red Honda, which whisked her away at a high speed.

Her father stayed behind and told the press that she would keep fighting for the other women's release - even though her actions will be limited by bail conditions.

The judges on Wednesday accepted the argument of Samutsevich's lawyer - that Samutsevich had been thrown out of the cathedral by guards before she could remove her guitar from its case for the band's "punk prayer".

The other band members cheered and hugged Samutsevich when the decision was read out.

One of the defence lawyers, Mark Feigin, said "we're glad that Yekaterina Samutsevich has been freed, but we think the other two girls should also be released". The appeal process would continue, he said.

Samutsevich's father reacted with the words: "What happiness! But what a shame about the other girls - they don't deserve such a harsh punishment".

Earlier Alyokhina told the hearing: "We're all innocent... the verdict should be overturned. The Russian justice system looks discredited".

Alyokhina said that "of course we didn't want to offend worshippers" when they protested at the cathedral's altar.

She said the trio's apologies had been ignored, but repentance was out of the question.

"For us to repent - that's unacceptable, it's a kind of blackmail," she said, adding that repentance was a personal matter, unconnected with a legal case.

She added she had "lost hope in this trial".

The three women sat in a glass cage in court, facing a three-judge panel.

'Punk prayer'

The band performed an obscenity-laced song at the Moscow cathedral on 21 February.

Yekaterina Samutsevich (L), Maria Alyokhina (C) and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (R) in court in Moscow (10 Oct 2012) Pussy Riot trio: Yekaterina Samutsevich is on the left

Tolokonnikova told the court "it's as clear as daylight that this was a political act, not anti-religious... I ask you to quash this sentence".

Alyokhina warned that if they were sent to a penal colony for two years "we won't stay silent - even in Mordovia, or Siberia - however uncomfortable that is for you".

Their "punk prayer" - which implored the Virgin Mary to "throw out" President Vladimir Putin and sought, the band said, to highlight the Russian Orthodox Church leader's support for the president - enraged the Church.

But while the Church hierarchy said the women's action "cannot be left unpunished", it added that any penitence shown should be taken into consideration.

Those comments followed a suggestion from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that a suspended sentence would have been sufficient punishment.

But Mr Putin last week defended the sentence, speaking on Russian NTV television.

"It's right that they were arrested, it's right that the court took that decision, because you can't undermine the foundations of morality, our moral values, destroy the country. What would we be left with then?" Mr Putin said.

Hostile atmosphere

Opinion polls in Russia suggest a majority backing the sentence against Pussy Riot, the BBC's Steve Rosenberg reports from Moscow. One poll found 43% of respondents considered the sentence too lenient.

Samutsevich's father Stanislav: "It feels like a very heavy weight has been lifted"

On Wednesday the judge rejected two motions from defence lawyers to call in experts for their opinions and more witnesses from the cathedral. The defendants' plea to hold a fresh psychological and linguistic evaluation of their protest song was also rejected.

Comments in a BBCRussian forum on Wednesday were mostly unsympathetic towards the band.

"I am really surprised at some Europeans' attitude towards the Pussy Riot case. The girls desecrated the cathedral that was originally built in memory of those who lost their lives liberating Europe from Napoleon. They should have protested elsewhere," said Vlad, in Moscow.

"Considering moral damage inflicted on my country, I think, it would be fairer to recall their citizenship and send them out of the country," said MosGen, in St Petersburg.

Another reader, Yuri in Barnaul, quoted Tolokonnikova's warning in court "that Putin's third term will bring instability and lead to a civil war" and commented: "She was right and that truth scared the judge".

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