Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich set free

So what is behind the release of one member of the rock group Pussy Riot while the other two remain behind bars?

Pussy Riot’s Yekaterina Samutsevich. Photo by Alexandra Astakhova.

There are some simple facts in the appeals case and despite President Vladimir Putin’s recent comments that he is satisfied with their sentencing, Yekaterina Samutsevich did have a defense somewhat different from the other two band members. When the news broke we had hoped that it was one of the young mothers who had been freed given the age of the small children. However it was Samutsevich, who had fired her attorney and hired prominent defense lawyer Irina Khrunova to mount a new defense.

Attorney Khrunova wasted no time in pointing out to the court that Samutsevich was not one of the band members dancing on the altar. Samutsevich was inside the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and was making her way to the altar area, but one of the first detained and therefore unable to take part in the band’s “protest prayer” on the Cathedral altar. Khrunova used the prosecution’s video evidence to prove that her client had already been escorted out of the Sanctuary area before the performance could begin.

The scene was emotional as Samutsevich left her fellow band members behind to “face the music” and Pussy Riot’s mothers of small children at home, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, still face two years in a penal colony on the conviction of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.

Maria Alyoknina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova remained behind at the Khamovniki district court in Moscow.

As noted in a recent Policymic article, “…the Pussy Riot prosecution is designed to have a chilling effect on the Russian opposition movement, which has become emboldened following massive street protests over allegations of vote rigging in last December’s parliamentary elections that skewed the results in favor of Putin’s United Russia party. Rallies in Moscow brought more than 100,000 people out into the streets in the middle of the Russian winter.

The opposition has made extensive use of social media sites like Facebook, YouTube and Russia’s Vkontakte to organize and promote their anti-Putin agenda. As noted, sites like YouTube are what made Pussy Riot a national sensation. The internet is also the one portion of the Russian media space that remains stubbornly beyond Putin’s control. The prospect of years, rather than days, in jail for acts of protest then is meant to make Russians think twice about speaking out against the government.”