MOSCOW — A Russian court on Wednesday unexpectedly freed one of three female punk rockers imprisoned for their protest against President Vladimir Putin’s rule, but left her companions behind bars.
The women had been sentenced in August to two years in prison for an act defined as hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for performing an anti-Putin “punk prayer” at Christ the Savior Cathedral in February. The verdict has drawn criticism from human rights groups and others in Russia and abroad.
Hearing their appeal on Wednesday, the Moscow City Court suspended the sentence of Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, the oldest of the group, who had changed her legal team and line of defense and argued that she should be treated differently than her fellow defendants.
During the protest, Samutsevich had been stopped by a guard before she could join the other women near the altar and did not take part in the song and dance there. While expressing solidarity with the other defendants, she told the court: “I think that if I am to be held responsible, it should be only for the actions I committed.”
Her colleagues, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, continued to defy the authorities and refused to repent, a demand of Orthodox Christian leaders who said they were otherwise willing to forgive the performance.
“Dear believers, we didn’t want to insult you as it never was our aim,” Alyokhina, 24, said in her statement to the court. “We went to the temple to express our desperate protest against the merging between the spiritual and political elites of our country.”
The court left in place the original sentences for Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova, 22.
Mark Feigin, an attorney for the pair, said they were happy for Samutsevich. But he called her release an example of selective justice.
“It is a political decision aimed to break the consolidated political defense and drive the wedge between the young women,” he said in an interview. “All three should have been released together today because everybody knows they are innocent.”
Feigin blamed Putin for applying pressure on the judge. On Sunday, in a documentary devoted to Putin’s 60th birthday, the Russian president said the original verdict was justified and the three got what “they were asking for.”
During Wednesday’s hearing, a group of Orthodox activists marched near the courthouse with icons and crosses and demanded the continued imprisonment of all three women.
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--Sergei L. Loiko