A Russian court on Wednesday freed one member of the controversial feminist rock collective Pussy Riot [RASPI backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The Moscow City Court [official website, in Russian] freed Yekaterina Samutsevich after accepting her argument [BBC report] that she had been removed from the cathedral so quickly that she had barely had time to remove her guitar from its case and never had a chance to participate in the band's "punk prayer." The court also heard the appeal of the two other detained members of the band, Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, but upheld their two-year prison sentences. Though her prison sentence was suspended, Samutsevich will remain on probation [RAPSI] for the next two years.
Claiming her situation within the appeal was unique because she did not perform, Samutsevich had previously asked for a delay in the proceedings after firing the lawyer [JURIST report] that had been representing the band as a whole. Samutsevich, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were given two-year prison sentences after they were convicted [JURIST report] in August of hooliganism in connection with "guerrilla performance" of a protest song in February at the altar of downtown Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. Several days prior to the trial Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev [official website, in Russian] called for the release of the band members, saying that time served has been severe enough and that any more time in prison would be counterproductive. The Russian Presidential Council on Human Rights [official website, in Russian] has questioned the legitimacy [JURIST report] of the court's verdict and sentence. Pussy Riot's defense lawyers moved [JURIST report] earlier in August to have one of the judges recuse herself from the case, saying her decisions were politically motivated. Since the beginning of the trial [JURIST report], the group's lawyers and human rights groups have said the charges were politically motivated by President Vladimir Putin [official website; JURIST news archive] to discredit his opposition.