MOSCOW, December 27 (RIA Novosti) – The two Pussy Riot members freed from prison this week said Friday that they were planning to distance themselves from radical political activism and focus on a new project to advocate for the rights of prisoners in Russia.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, who spent almost 22 months in prison on hooliganism charges for an anti-Kremlin protest in Moscow’s main cathedral, said they still would like to seek the ouster of President Vladimir Putin and dismantle the current ruling system, but their immediate plan was to help prisoners.
Three members of the all-female punk band Pussy Riot were arrested in March 2012 for the protest and later sentenced to two years in prison following a widely criticized trial. One of the convicted, Yekaterina Samutsevich, got her punishment replaced with a suspended sentence.
Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina said they now felt committed to fight for the rights of those who remain inside Russia’s extremely opaque system of penal institutions, infamous for widespread abuse and harsh living conditions.
Formerly known as lead members of the Pussy Riot band – famous for its anti-Kremlin songs and performances in colorful balaclavas – the two women seemed less spry in their recent comments to dozens of reporters who crowded the Dozhd television studio in central Moscow just across the river from the city’s main cathedral, Christ the Savior.
The women’s new human rights initiative is called Zona Prava, an ambiguous phrase that could be translated as “Zone of Rights.” The new organization will bring together a team of activists and lawyers.
“We are truly not indifferent. We can’t leave them [prisoners] without help,” Alyokhina, 25, said.
Tolokonnikova, 24, said she would like formerly imprisoned oil baron Mikhail Khodorkovsky to join their initiative, saying he is a “very strong man.”
Khodorkovsky, who spent 10 years in Russian prisons on economic charges, flew to Germany after his sudden release last week upon being granted a presidential pardon.
While serving their terms, the two imprisoned Pussy Riot rockers, both mothers of small children, repeatedly complained about violations of their rights by prison officials. Tolokonnikova was even transferred to a remote penal colony in Siberia after accusing a deputy guard of threatening to kill her.
Speaking at their first press conference in Moscow, Tolokonnikova said that the women didn’t see their recent release under presidential pardon as a sign of a “thaw” or act of humanism” by the Kremlin, but rather a PR move ahead of the 2014 Olympic Games.
When asked about possible replacement for Putin as president, Tolokonnikov said she would nominate Khodorkovsky.