Russia’s prime minister has said the women in the Pussy Riot punk band serving two-year prison sentences should be set free.
Three members of the band were convicted on hooliganism charges in August for performing a “punk prayer” at Moscow’s main cathedral during which they pleaded with the Virgin Mary for deliverance from President Vladimir Putin.
One of them, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released on appeal last month but the other two, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, were sent to prison camps to serve their sentences.
Prime minister Dmitry Medvedev said today that he detested the Pussy Riot act, but added the women have been in prison long enough and should be released.
He made a similar statement before October’s appeal hearings, fuelling speculation about their possible release.
Mr Medvedev’s latest comment is unlikely to take effect, since he is widely seen as a liberal yet nominal government figure whose pledges and orders are seldom followed through on.
Also today, Tolokonnikova’s husband Pyotr Verzilov was turned away by authorities when he tried to visit her at a prison camp in the village of Partsa in Mordovia, a region well known in Russia for the Gulag camps filled with the tens of thousands in the 1930s.
He had brought paperwork regarding the ongoing legal drama of the Pussy Riot trial, which should have enabled him to meet his wife on prison grounds. But he was told that she remains in quarantine for several more days.
Tolokonnikova and a team of lawyers are planning an appeal to a regional court, requesting that her sentence be put off until the couple’s daughter, four-year-old Gera, is 14, Mr Verzilov said.
While both Tolokonnikova and Alekhina both have small children, their lawyers’ frequent reference to that fact has had little effect on Pussy Riot members’ two-year sentences, which were upheld in an October appeal.
Mr Verzilov said his wife has been treated well by prison officials, but he attributed that to the publicity stirred up by the trial.
The band members’ imprisonment has come to symbolise intolerance of dissent in Putin’s Russia and caused a strong international condemnation. Their cause has been taken up by celebrities and musicians, including Madonna and Sir Paul McCartney, and protests have been held around the world.