Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Russian feminist rock band Pussy Riot [RASPI background; JURIST news archive] were transferred to separate regional prisons on Saturday to serve out their two-year sentences for hooliganism and religious hatred in connection with their performance at an protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin [official website; JURIST news archive] at a Moscow cathedral. The regional courts, Mordovia and Perm, are generally reserved for dangerous criminals [Moscow Times report] and were described by the band's lawyer as "brutal." Both have been separated from their young children, who reside in Moscow. The third member of the band, Yekaterina Samutsevich, who was freed on appeal [JURIST report] earlier this month because she did not actually participate in the protest song vowed on Friday to take the band's case to the European Court of Human Rights [official website] on charges that the Russian government violated the band's right to free speech [Moscow Times report] and illegally detained them. Samutsevich alleges that the Russian courts failed to be impartial, but stated that the band has succeeded in its goal of igniting debate about the connection between Putin and the Orthodox Church.
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 Putin to discredit his opposition.