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Pussy Riot members make surprise U.S. visit to help free jailed friends

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, June 7, 2013 13:28 EDT
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Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, one of the jailed members of the all-girl punk band Pussy Riot, looks on from a court in Zubova, Republic of Mordovia, on April 26, 2013. (AFP)
 
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Two members of the Russian feminist punk-rock band Pussy Riot on Friday urged the United States to help free their friends jailed last year for an anti-government protest performance.

The two women, who slipped into the country on a surprise visit, met with US lawmakers as well as White House and State Department officials in a bid to publicize their friends’ plight and press for their freedom.

Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, are being held in two separate Russian penal colonies after being sentenced to two years in prison in August for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.

The sentences, handed down after the balaclava-wearing band of rockers performed a protest song against Russian President Vladimir Putin in an Orthodox Moscow cathedral, have attracted global attention and condemnation.

A third member of the band, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was convicted but later released on appeal with a suspended sentence and probation after spending several months in pre-trial detention.

The visiting band members, who wanted to be known by the pseudonyms Fabra and Shaiba, on Friday shed their brightly-colored headgear, revealing their faces at a small press conference.

But they asked that no pictures or video be taken of them, and their voices modified in audio-tapes, fearful of repercussions by the Russian authorities.

“We came to Washington DC specifically… to meet with several members of Congress and politicians to discuss our situation,” Shaiba said. “We asked them for their help.”

The sentences imposed on their friends are “a vicious example of injustice and a vivid demonstration of the violation of freedom of speech, and human rights and self-expression,” she added, speaking through a translator.

The women urged the US to raise their case directly with Putin and Russian authorities, and seek to visit Alyokhina, who has just ended an 11-day hunger strike, and Tolokonnikova in the prison colonies where they are held.

It was “very important” for foreign governments and the media to keep a spotlight on the issue “because it doesn’t allow the government to get out of control and it actually forces them to be more careful and attentive towards the laws of the Russian federation,” Shaiba said.

World music icons such as Madonna and Paul McCartney have also backed calls for the two jailed band members, who both have young children, to be freed — something which Fara and Shaiba both welcomed.

Out of safety concerns, the two women refused to say how they arrived in the United States, their future plans and if they would visit other countries.

But they said they wanted to keep making music, even though all their videos and songs are currently banned under Russia’s stringent laws.

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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