Maria Alyokhina (C), member of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, speaks to the media after her release from a penal colony in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, Dec. 23, 2013.
Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

Pussy Riot members freed

Updated

The two remaining imprisoned Pussy Riot members were released from prison Monday under Russia’s new amnesty law.

The pair slammed the move, and accused President Vladimir Putin of freeing them as a public relations effort meant to smooth out international human rights criticisims ahead of the winter Olympics.

“This is not an amnesty. This is a hoax and a PR move,” one of the members, Maria Alekhina told a Russian television station according to the AP. She said if she’d been given the option, she’d have finished out her sentence, which ends in March.

“I think this is an attempt to improve the image of the current government, a little, before the Sochi Olympics — particularly for the Western Europeans,” she told the New York Times. “But I don’t consider this humane or merciful.”

“The border between being free and not free is very thin in Russia, a totalitarian state,” Nadezhda Tolokonnikova told reporters outside her prison, according to Reuters, after shouting “Russia without Putin!”

Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (R) speaks to the media after she was released from prison in Krasnoyarsk, Dec. 23, 2013.
Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (R) speaks to the media after she was released from prison in Krasnoyarsk, Dec. 23, 2013.
Photo by Ilya Naymushin/Reuters

The two women were released after Putin ordered the Parliament to pass a bill granting amnesty to those who have commited non-violent crimes.

The amnesty bill will release hundreds of political prisoners, on the heels of Putin’s specific pardon of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an oil tycoon who challenged his power, after a decade in prison.

“Everything is just starting, so fasten your seat belts,” Tolokonnikova told reporters, suggesting Pussy Riot is far from quieting down following their release. 

“A lot of time has passed. An artist isn’t interested in repeating themselves,” Tolokonnikova said after her release, discussing her plans to fight for prisoners rights. ”Now I am not just an artist but a politician and I feel it’s my responsibility to do work on human rights because I saw a lot of suffering and I must use the experience I had while in prison and not to spend the years I spent in jail for nothing, to use it for the benefit of those people who continue to be there.”

Pussy Riot formed in 2011 and were known for donning knitted ski masks and staging punk protests. They were arrested after a particularly notable protest in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, where they pleaded with the Virgin Mary to remove Putin from power. They were later charged with “hooliganism” motivated by religious hatred and were charged with two years in prison. One of the members, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released a few months after they were sentenced. 

The Daily Rundown, 12/23/13, 10:03 AM ET

Putin orders release of jailed musicians

The Russian government is making good on the amnesty offered by President Putin with the release of two members of “Pussy Riot.” NBC’s Jim Maceda reports and the “gaggle” discusses.

Olympics, Protest and Russia

Pussy Riot members freed

Updated