Pussy Riot may be free by new year after judgement is overturned by Russia's Supreme Court

 

Russia’s Supreme Court has said the ruling that jailed the feminist punk group Pussy Riot was illegal and their case should be heard again.

Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina are serving two-year jail terms in remote prison colonies for a protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin held in a Moscow cathedral.

In a ruling posted on its website, the Supreme Court found that the Moscow court did not establish in its verdict that Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina had gravely disturbed the peace out of “hatred for a social group”, which it ruled to be the motive for the crime along with “religious hatred and enmity”.

The Moscow court also did not take into consideration the mitigating factors that the crime was not violent and that Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova have small children, the Supreme Court said. It ordered an appeal hearing, the date for which has yet to be set.

A reprieve for the pair, in the form of amnesty legislation being considered by the State Duma, has also been mooted this week. 

It is not known if or when the possible amnesty could come into effect, but it has been suggested that it may be before the 2014 Winter Olympics begin in Sochi in February, when Russia’s human rights record and Mr Putin’s personal legacy will be under the spotlight.

Pussy Riot’s lawyer, Irina Khrunova, said she welcomed the news of the new appeal hearing, but had more hope that the amnesty could release her clients before the new year, well before their sentences are due to end in March.

The Supreme Court ruling “repeats all of the complaints listed in my appeal [in November]. Of course, I’m happy,” Ms Khrunova told The Independent. “If the amnesty project passes, I expect they will be out by new year’s.”

Three members of Pussy Riot – Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Tolokonnikova – were convicted of hooliganism in August 2012 and sentenced to two years in a prison. A month later, the court suspended Samutsevich’s sentence.

During her prison sentence, Tolokonnikova has said she had been forced to work 17-hour days, eat rotten food and watch her fellow inmates being forced to perform humiliating punishments.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina’s prison terms were appealed in November by Ms Khrunova and human rights activist Vladimir Lukin, prompting the Supreme Court ruling.

The amnesty legislation, introduced in honour of the 20th anniversary of the Russian Constitution but reviving a Soviet tradition of broad pardons, would apply to women who have children and haven’t committed violent crimes.

It had been hoped that the 30 Greenpeace Arctic Sunrise crew members on trial in Russia would also be reprieved, but Greenpeace lawyers said that the current text of the amnesty bill does not apply to them.

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