Pussy Riot prisoners sack lawyers who 'cashed in on fame'

Legal team hit back by claiming that freed member of activist trio is a Kremlin collaborator

Moscow

The jailed members of the punk group Pussy Riot have parted company with their lawyers in a rancorous split that has seen the legal team claim that the freed member of the group, Ekaterina Samutsevich, is a Kremlin collaborator, while she has claimed the lawyers are trying to profit from the band's notoriety.

The trio burst into Moscow's biggest cathedral in February wearing bright balaclavas and mimed a song entitled "Virgin Mary, kick out Putin". Over the summer, Ms Samutsevich, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina were found guilty of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" and jailed for two years.

They have become renowned across the world, and Ms Samutsevich says that the wife of one of the lawyers had registered "Pussy Riot" as a trademark in the hope of cashing in on the group's notoriety. She also accused the lawyers of taking her passport and keys and not returning them.

Ms Samutsevich had already parted company with her initial lawyers after the first verdict. At an appeal hearing, she announced unexpectedly that she wanted to change lawyers, and made a new argument that she had not actually been properly involved in the stunt. As a result, she was freed, while Ms Tolokonnikova and Ms Alekhina had their two-year sentences kept in force.

This week, it became clear that the other two women were also parting company with the lawyers. Initially, one of the lawyers, Nikolai Polozov, said that he and two colleagues were leaving the case by mutual agreement with their clients, because the lawyers have developed too much of a media profile and were harming the two women in prison. The other two women will now be represented by Irina Khrunova, Ms Samutsevich's lawyer during the appeal.

Yesterday, however, the lawyers implicated Ms Samutsevich in a campaign organised by the Kremlin to discredit them. "Samutsevich's lies, published by the media, are one of the elements of the agreement she made to remove herself from the case," wrote Mr Polozov on his Twitter feed yesterday. Ms Samutsevich has denied ever making any deal to ensure her release.

"Her personal issues are being used as a device to discredit the lawyers. The only people to benefit are the authorities," claimed Mr Polozov. Mark Feigin, another of the lawyers, admitted that his wife had registered a company to use the Pussy Riot trademark, but said that this had been done with the agreement of the three women. Ms Samutsevich has said that the group never gave their authorisation to use the Pussy Riot name as a way to make money.

The case has made huge waves internationally, which has irritated the Kremlin. When Madonna spoke out in favour of the group during a concert in Moscow, the Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin, called her a "whore".

When Angela Merkel raised the case during a visit to Moscow last week, Mr Putin claimed that the trio had been involved in anti-Semitic stunts, in an apparent attempt to shame the German Chancellor into keeping quiet about the case. "Neither we, nor you, can support people with anti-Semitic views," Mr Putin said, telling Ms Merkel that the band had been involved in performing a mock hanging on an effigy of a Jew.

The Russian President was apparently referring to a 2008 stunt by the art group Voina which satirised the discrimination faced by ethnic minorities in Russia.

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