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Freed Pussy Riot member fights for jailed bandmates

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, October 21, 2012 10:21 EDT
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Pussy Riot via AFP
 
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KRASNOGORSK, Russia — Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich, freed on appeal after several months in jail, is in daily contact with her two jailed bandmates — and still fighting for their release.

Samutsevich may still have a suspended sentence hanging over her head, but she called her release a victory for the punk feminists.

Her time in jail has not left her unscathed, however: she has filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights over her treatment there.

At a meeting in the Moscow satellite town of Krasnogorsk, Samutsevich looked bright-eyed but drawn: she was having trouble sleeping, she explained.

“I feel OK. I’m a bit tired because I’m being asked to go somewhere all the time, people are asking me to comment all the time,” she said.

The public attention had come as a shock, she admitted.

Pussy Riot shot to fame in February when they staged an impromptu performance inside Moscow’s main cathedral mocking President Vladimir Putin — and the Russian Orthodox Church’s ties to the state.

She and fellow bandmates Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were jailed for two years for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.

Samutsevich hired a new lawyer for the appeal, who argued she should not go to prison because guards had grabbed her and her guitar before she could perform the “punk prayer”.

It worked: Samutsevich had her sentence suspended and she was freed by the court. But her bandmates lost their appeal and face being sent to a labour camp.

“As we see it as a group, the three of us, it was a victory,” she told AFP. “At least one of us three was freed, even if it was a suspended sentence.

“Naturally now we are going to fight for Masha and Nadia to come out too,” she added, referring to her bandmates.

She backed their lawyers’ current bid to use a legal loophole to postpone the women’s sentences until their young children are grown-up.

But she questioned why this loophole had not been used earlier.

The lawyers “got distracted”, she said.

Dressed in blue jeans, trainers and a black padded jacket, Samutsevich sat in a playground surrounded by high-rise blocks, attracting a few curious glances.

At 30, the computer programmer was the eldest of the Pussy Riot defendants. Her father, a softly spoken man in his 70s, attended all the court hearings.

She took part in satirical performances by Voina (War) political art group, including kissing policewomen in public. And as part of Pussy Riot, she protested against Putin in brief concerts, including one on Red Square.

Stripped of her balaclava-clad anonymity, she now spends her time giving media appearances and keeping in touch with bandmates Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina.

“Every day I write them letters and hand them over via the lawyers and they answer. It’s very important to keep in touch, since they could go to the (prison) colony soon,” she said.

Even if her final courtroom speeches were combative, during the hearings Samutsevich often looked dazed. She put that down to overwhelming fatigue.

The women rose at 5:00 am to be taken in a convoy from prison to the court through Moscow traffic jams hours before the hearings, she said.

“When we went up to the courtroom, we were just squeezed out like lemons. Sometimes I was so sleepy that I couldn’t take in what was happening.”

Those conditions, standard for detainees, are now the basis of a complaint Samutsevich has filed with the European Court of Human Rights alleging inhuman treatment.

She described 6:00 am reveille, cell checks, meals and lights-out at 10:00 pm. It was hard to be herself, she said.

“When there’s four people all the time in one room, in a small cell, there’s not that much personal space, you can’t fully do your own thing. You are always on view.”

During her seven months behind bars, Putin’s Russia toughened its laws on protests. The authorities increased fines for unsanctioned actions and launched criminal investigations into protest leaders Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov.

“I’m only now beginning to understand what happened over the last seven months and to be honest I see that the situation has got a lot worse in Russia,” she said. She described it as a “tightening of the screws.”

With the threat of her suspended sentence becoming a real one if she re-offends, Samutsevich said Pussy Riot would go on, but possibly without her on stage.

“I’d like to take part but at the same time I realise I have to be cautious. Now they could even be tailing me,” she said.

“Being active in the group is not defined only by taking part in performances.”

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
AFP journalists cover wars, conflicts, politics, science, health, the environment, technology, fashion, entertainment, the offbeat, sports and a whole lot more in text, photographs, video, graphics and online.
 
 
 
 
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