January 16, 2013 / 3:03 PM / 5 years ago

Russian court rejects Pussy Riot protester's bid for release

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Jailed Pussy Riot protester Maria Alyokhina lost an appeal on Wednesday to be freed and have her sentence deferred so she could care for her five-year-old son.

Alyokhina is serving a two-year sentence in a remote prison - an experience she said was like something from the works of Nikolai Gogol, Franz Kafka or George Orwell - for a protest against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral.

She had asked a court to free her from the jail in the Ural Mountains town of Berezniki, 1,200 km (750 miles) northeast of Moscow, and allow her to serve out her sentence when her son was older.

“The court has ruled against granting the request,” the judge said after the hearing that stretched into the evening at the city court in Berezniki.

The court found that Alyokhina’s family situation had been properly taken into account during her trial.

Alyokhina and two fellow band members were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for their “punk prayer”, which was criticized by Putin and cast by the Russian Orthodox Church as part of a concerted attack on the country’s main faith.

One of the three was released on appeal with a suspended sentence, but Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, are less than halfway through their prison terms, which are counted from their arrests in March 2012.

The court hearing focused less on Alyokhina’s child than on reprimands she has received from prison authorities.

She said they were unfair, citing a case in which she failed to respond to a 5:30 a.m. wakeup order, contending she had not heard the guard knock on the her cell’s thick metal door.


She said her lawyer had been denied access to a disciplinary commission, and described being stonewalled by impenetrable bureaucracy in her efforts to fight the reprimands.

“I would be very tempted to mention Gogol, Kafka and Orwell at this moment,” Alyokhina said.

Alyokhina was moved to a single-person cell in November because of tension with other inmates at Correctional Colony No. 28, a move prison authorities said was for her own protection.

The refusal to let her be with her child angered Kremlin critics who are also incensed by a law Putin signed in December barring Americans from adopting Russian children, which critics say has made vulnerable orphans pawns to politics.

“The authorities continue to behave like beasts toward these women, because the people in power here are inhuman,” said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a Soviet-era dissident and prominent human rights activist.

Some 40,000 people marched in Moscow on Sunday to protest the ban, some denouncing Putin as a “child-killer”. He has promised that Russia will take measures to improve the lives of orphans and other children in the care of the state.

“When the authorities saw how angry people were about the law, they said, ‘Oh, look, we will make the conditions here better for children’,” Alexeyeva said bitterly. “But Alyokhina’s child is a child, too.”

The United States and Europe have called the two-year Pussy Riot sentences excessive and Putin’s opponents say they are part of a series of measures to punish dissent since he returned to the presidency last May after four years as prime minister.

The three were convicted for a February protest in which they burst into Christ the Saviour cathedral and belted out a profanity-laced song urging the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin.

Pussy Riot denied the hate charge, saying they were protesting the close ties between the Kremlin and the church.

Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Andrew Roche

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