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Russia Prime Minister says pro-gay band Pussy Riot may soon be free

Punk rockers Pussy Riot, jailed after protesting Russian President Vladamir Putin, may be released says Dmitry Medvedev
Pussy Riot's protest against Putin saw three members arrested and jailed. They may soon be released.

Dmitry Medvedev the Russian Prime Minister has called for three members of the punk band Pussy Riot to be freed.

And he has indicated their release could be imminent since their case comes up for appeal on 1 October.

The band members were arrested for performing a raucous prayer inside Moscow's main cathedral asking the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Vladimir Putin as he headed into the election that handed him a third term as president.

The protest performance included a reference to the country's persecuted LGBT community with the line 'Gay pride sent to Siberia in chains' and was staged on 21 February.

The band members had already spent more than five months in jail when they were convicted in August of ‘hooliganism driven by religious hatred’ and sentenced to two years in prison.

Medvedev has cultivated an image of a more liberal leader, which could allow Putin to put the uncomfortable case behind him while not appearing weak, by calling for the women's release himself.

However Medvedev commented said the band’s outward appearance, performing in bright-coloured miniskirts and balaclavas, and the ‘hysteria’ accompanying them made him ‘sick’, during a televised meeting with members of his United Russia party in Penza.

Nevertheless despite his personal feelings he felt that keeping them in prison any longer would be ‘unproductive’.

‘In my view, a suspended sentence would be sufficient, taking into account the time they have already spent in custody,’ he said.

The band members’ incineration has come to symbolize Putin’s intensifying crackdown on dissent since his return to the presidency.

Activists called on British Prime Minister David Cameron to pressure Putin over the trial of the pro-gay punk protesters during his visit to London (2 August).

Cyber activists from Anonymous have also claimed responsibility for posting video of Bulgarian gay singer on website of court which jailed Russian punk band Pussy Riot.

Their cause has been taken up by celebrities and musicians, including Madonna, Paul McCartney and gay British writer and TV presenter Stephen Fry and protests have been held around the world.

In a comment piece for Gay Star News, in my role as an international rights campaigner, I argued Putin’s appearance at the UN was a chance for the world to show its disapproval of his anti-LGBT abuses.

Before courts sentencing, Putin had said the women should not be judged too harshly, creating an expectation that they could be sentenced to time served and freed in the courtroom.

This though would have left the impression that Putin had bowed to pressure, something he has resisted throughout his 12 years in power. Some believe he is unwilling to risk disappointing his conservative supporters, who saw the punk performance as an attack on the Russian Orthodox Church.

The church itself was outspoken in its demands for the band to be punished.

However the court verdict drew strong criticism even from some Kremlin loyalists. The head of a presidential advisory council on human rights voiced hope that the prison sentence would be repealed or at least softened. Alexei Kudrin, the Former Finance Minister, who remains close to Putin, said that it had dealt ‘yet another blow to the court system and citizens’ trust in it.’

State television aired a program denouncing Pussy Riot, as if to reinforce the message that the Kremlin still considers them despicable on the night before Medvedev made his comments.

The program had included the claim that the feminist band was financed by Boris Berezovsky, who has lived in Britain since 2001 after a falling out with Putin and often serves as the Kremlin’s scapegoat.

Berezovsky addressed these allegations on Wednesday (12 September) affirming that he had nothing to do with the group, although he was ‘truly delighted by the actions and courage of the girls.’

Two other members of Pussy Riot fled the country to avoid prosecution, the band reported.

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