21st Mar 2018

Pussy Riot: Magnitsky 'not an isolated case' in Putin's jails

  • Maria and Nadezhda spent almost two years in prison over an anti-Putin punk song (Photo: Wholesale of void)

Two members of the Russian punk band "Pussy Riot" on Monday (10 February) rubbished President Vladimir Putin's amnesty law and said prison conditions are still as inhumane as they were for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian whistleblower who died in jail in 2009.

Speaking at a press conference in Berlin, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, who spent two years in prison for an anti-Putin punk song performed in a church, thanked all those in Europe who campaigned for their release.

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"We are sitting at this table after two years in prison, but there are still people in Russia facing five-six years in prison for the same reasons as us," 25-year old Alyokhina said through a translator.

Tolokonnikova, who is 24 years old and has a young daughter, rejected the charges and said their song did not incite religious hatred, as ruled by the judge who sentenced them.

"We want religion to be free of political influence such as the corrupt link between Partriarch Kyrill and Putin," she said, referring to the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Released under a special presidential amnesty just before Christmas last year, the two denounced the move as a mere PR trick by Putin.

"It's not a real amnesty, it's a fake - just Putin trying to polish his image. The number who got released is very small," Alyokhina said.

She noted that some 863,000 people are imprisoned in Russia for political reasons, while the number of prominent releases - like themselves and former oligarch and Putin-critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky - remains very small.

The two said that prison conditions have not changed much since 37-year old tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in jail in 2009 after being beaten and denied medical treatment.

"Magnitsky is a very horrible case, but unfortunately it's no exception, rather the rule in Russian prisons," Tolokonnikova said.

She recalled a case of a prison mate who had Aids and who was denied treatment with the sarcastic comment: "Did you come here to get cured or what?"

"A Magnitsky law should be passed in Europe," Tolokonnikova added, in reference to a law passed in the US banning 18 Russian officials linked to the Magnitsky case from travelling to the US and freezing any assets they may have on American soil.

The two activists are now in the process of setting up an NGO fighting for the rights of prisoners in Russia and said they "expect" to co-operate with Khodorkovsky on the matter.

Asked about their opinion on US whistleblower Edward Snowden, who was granted asylum in Russia, the two said he is not someone who "fights against the Russian system" since he is "very well taken care of" and hosted in a flat owned by the Russian intelligence service, the FSB.

As for political ambitions, they said they aim to run for posts in the Moscow city council.

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