23 December 2013 17:49

KRASNOYARSK — Two jailed members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot were released Monday following an amnesty law that both described as a Kremlin public relations stunt ahead of the Winter Olympics.

Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were granted amnesty last week in a move largely viewed as the Kremlin's attempt to soothe criticism of Russia's human rights record ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.

The third member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released on a suspended sentence months after all three were found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two years in prison for the performance at Moscow's main cathedral in March 2012.

The band members said their protest was meant to raise their concern about increasingly close ties between the state and the church.

Russian parliament passed the amnesty bill last week, allowing the release of thousands of inmates. Alekhina and Tolokonnikova, who were due for release in March, qualified for amnesty because they have small children.

There has been an international outcry over Russia's human rights record, including for passing a law earlier this year that bans so-called homosexual propaganda among minors, which gay groups in Russia and abroad say feeds the existing enmity toward gay people in the country.

Tolokonnikova walked out of a prison in the eastern Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk on Monday, smiling to reporters and flashing a V sign.


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