Pussy Riot member urges Russia Olympics boycott

 

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova: "Today I am an even more determined person"

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A member of Russian punk band Pussy Riot has called for foreign countries to boycott February's Winter Olympics, hours after she was freed from jail.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova dismissed the amnesty law that set her free, saying it was a "cosmetic measure".

She and band-mate Maria Alyokhina, who was also freed, said the prison system needed wider reform and promised to continue anti-government action.

They were jailed in 2012 after singing a protest song in a Moscow cathedral.

Analysis

Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova marched back into the spotlight as defiant as ever. Even the fact they were being freed was something to be up in arms about. It was, they both said, a hoax: a cynical attempt by President Vladimir Putin to buy better publicity for Russia ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

They were still punk rockers all the way, performance artists who saw every aspect of their lives as a facet of protest.

"Hold on to your seat belts, everything is just starting," she added, claiming that given the chance, they would have sung the irreverent song in their famous cathedral stunt to the end. There would be new projects, she promised, using the same methods.

But for all the two women's show of bravado, it may be that they will pause before risking a new spectacular protest. They do now know what the consequences of poking fun at the Russian state can be.

The act was seen as blasphemous by many Russians, and was condemned by the Orthodox Church.

But their conviction for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" was criticised by rights groups, anti-government activists and foreign politicians.

The amnesty passed last week aimed to free some 20,000 prisoners.

In a separate move, President Vladimir Putin pardoned former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was once Russia's richest man, on humanitarian grounds.

'Totalitarian machine'

Both Pussy Riot members said their anti-government stance had not softened, and both promised to form a human-rights group to fight for prison reform.

Tolokonnikova, who was freed from a prison hospital in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, immediately called for a boycott of the Sochi Games.

"What is happening today - releasing people just a few months before their term expires - is a cosmetic measure," she said.

"That includes the case of Khodorkovsky, who didn't have much time left on his prison term. This is ridiculous."

She said far more people should be set free.

"I'm calling for a boycott, for honesty. I'm calling [on Western governments] not to give in because of oil and gas deliveries from Russia."

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova speaks to the media after she was released from prison in Krasnoyarsk, December 23 Nadezhda Tolokonnikova joked about the Siberian weather with photographers at the prison.
Maria Alyokhina near a decorative street light after her release from a penal colony in Nizhny Novgorod December 23 Maria Alyokhina promised to continue campaigning for human rights in Russia.
Demonstrators hold flags and a portrait, front, of jailed punk band Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, during an opposition rally in Moscow, April 6 Anti-Putin protesters were outraged by the band's jailing.

The 24-year-old labelled the Russian state a "totalitarian machine" and said prison reform was the starting point for reform of Russian society.

Alyokhina, released in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, 400km (280 miles) east of Moscow, told Russian TV that the amnesty was "a profanation".

"If it were possible, if I had had a choice, I would have stayed in prison without a doubt," she said.

Rights groups have already campaigned for a boycott of the Sochi Games after Russia passed a law forbidding "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors".

Gay athletes said they feared the law could be used against them, but Mr Putin later told Olympics organisers that gay athletes were welcome in Russia.

'Throw Putin out'

The two Pussy Riot members were due to be freed in March. They were freed early because they both have children, and the amnesty law covered mothers.

What people in Moscow think of the release

They were convicted after performing an obscenity-laced song called Punk Prayer in Moscow's Christ the Saviour cathedral in February 2012.

The song was heavily critical of the Orthodox Church's support for the president, calling on the Virgin Mary to "throw Putin out".

A third Pussy Riot protester, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was also jailed, but was released on appeal in October 2012.

Charges against 30 people arrested while taking part in a Greenpeace protest at a Russian Arctic offshore oil rig may also be dropped later this week under the amnesty law.

The group - mostly foreign activists - have been charged with hooliganism.

 

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