Jailed Pussy Riot punk singer denied parole

Maria Alyokhina forced to appear at parole decision appeal by video link despite hunger strike over right to attend in person

A Russian court has rejected an appeal by a jailed member of Pussy Riot against a previous court ruling that denied her an early release.

Maria Alekhina has served a year and a half out of her two-year prison sentence and was appealing for parole.

Alekhina was transferred from the prison where she was serving her sentence to another one close to the city where the court rejected her appeal on Wednesday.

The musician had appeared via video link at a parole hearing in Russia, as U2, Madonna, Radiohead and other stars of rock and pop signed an open letter calling for the band-members’ release.

Alyokhina had previously staged an 11-day hunger strike over the judiciary’s refusal to allow her to appear in person at parole hearings, and she raised the issue again on Wednesday, Russian news agency RAPSI reported.

Speaking from a pre-trial centre near the jail where she is being held as part of a two-year sentence for “hooliganism”, Ms Alyokhina began the hearing by challenging the impartiality of the panel of three judges and asking for them to step down.

RAPSI reported that the judges retreated to consider the accusation, but deemed themselves unbiased and refused her request.

Ms Alyokhina and fellow band-members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich were convicted on hooliganism charges after they staged a musical protest against President Vladimir Putin at Moscow’s central Church of Christ, entitled “A Punk Prayer”.

Wednesday's hearing was an appeal of a decision on 23 May to refuse Ms Alyokhina parole, which came a month after a similar request from Ms Tolokonnikova was also turned down. Ms Samutsevich had her sentence suspended last October on the grounds that police stopped her before she reached the cathedral’s altar.

The plight of the band has drawn international attention, and with the help of Amnesty International garnered the support of some of the biggest names in the world of music.

The charity has written an open letter calling for their release, which was signed this week by Adele, Sting, Madonna, Radiohead, Coldplay, U2, Sir Elton John and Sir Paul McCartney, among many others.

The letter read: “As the one-year anniversary of your trial approaches, we are writing to assure you that, around the world, people are both still thinking of you and working for your release.

“While understanding the sensitivities of protesting in a place of worship, we ask that the Russian authorities review these harsh sentences, so that you may return to your children, your families and your lives.”

The letter, addressed to Maria and Nadezhda, concludes: “Your strength, bravery and fearlessness are an inspiration to us all.”

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