Yoko Ono joins calls for Pussy Riot's prison release

Fri Sep 21, 2012 7:08pm EDT
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By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Peace activist Yoko Ono on Friday joined the prominent call to free the three imprisoned Pussy Riot punk band members, saluting their stand for freedom of speech after being handed a two-year sentence for staging a "punk prayer" in Moscow's main cathedral.

"I thank Pussy Riot in standing firmly in their belief for freedom of expression and making all women of the world proud to be women," Ono told reporters in New York, flanked by the husband and four year old daughter of one band member.

She awarded the three imprisoned members - Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich - a peace grant established in the name of her late husband, former Beatle John Lennon.

Tolokonnikova's husband, Pyotr Verzilov, accepted Ono's grant on behalf of the three women. He said he and his daughter visited Tolokonnikova in prison for the first time in six months earlier this week, where she is kept with her two fellow band members segregated from other prisoners.

Their daughter had sent her mother scribblings of plans of escape. "For her it has been very emotional," he said, talking of his daughter's drawing, "She breaks down the prison walls and helps Nadia's escape."

Ono joined Madonna, Burmese opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi and rights groups that have also stood up against the band's imprisonment.

Speaking just days ahead of an October 1 appeal by the band, when Amnesty International and other groups hope thousands of people will rally in dozens of cities, Ono said she "wanted to express my love and respect for them, I want to work for the immediate release from the prison they are in."

The jail sentences - for the crime of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after the band stormed the altar of Moscow's main cathedral calling on the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of President Vladimir Putin - has drawn sharp international criticism.   Continued...

Yoko Ono is pictured before presenting the LennonOno Grant for Peace to Pyotr Verzilov, husband of convicted Pussy Riot band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, in New York September 21, 2012.REUTERS/Lucas Jackson