Pussy Riot members to be freed, lawyer says

Last updated 14:46 18/12/2013

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Two members of the all-female punk band Pussy Riot imprisoned for hooliganism over a protest against President Vladimir Putin will be offered freedom under an amnesty, their lawyer said.

Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, unanimously approved the amnesty proposed by Putin on the first of three required readings on Tuesday.

"According to the draft law passed today, my clients will be freed," lawyer Irina Khrunova said in a phone interview. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, who are due to complete their two-year sentences in March, qualify for release because they have young children and were convicted of a minor crime.

The amnesty helps mark the 20th anniversary of Russia's constitution, which was on December 12, and comes a few months before Russia stages the Winter Olympics in Sochi February 7-23. It will apply to 20,000 to 22,000 people, according to human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin.

Thirty people charged with hooliganism for participating in a Greenpeace protest in the Arctic may be included in the amnesty if the law is amended to include those who are facing trial and haven't yet been convicted, the environmental organisation said in an emailed statement.

The 28 activists and two journalists, who face as long as seven years in prison for the protest targeting OAO Gazprom's Arctic offshore oil platform, were set free on bail last month by courts in St Petersburg.

Greenpeace has mounted a worldwide campaign to press for the charges to be dropped. The imprisonment of Pussy Riot's Tolokonnikova and Alekhina also drew international condemnation, with support from pop stars such as Madonna, Sting and Paul McCartney.

Russia's top court last week ordered a review of the two- year prison sentence, ruling that Tolokonnikova and Alekhina should have been entitled to defer their sentences because of their young children.

Five Pussy Riot performers wearing colorful balaclavas sang a "punk prayer" in Moscow's main Orthodox cathedral in February 2012, calling on the Virgin Mary to "expel" Putin.

A Moscow court jailed Tolokonnikova, Alekhina and Ekaterina Samutsevich for inciting religious hatred and hooliganism in August 2012.

Samutsevich was released on a suspended sentence, while the other two weren't identified and remain at large.

- Washington Post/Bloomberg

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