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article imagePussy Riot activist freed as band shortlisted for Sakharov Prize

By Darren Weir     Oct 10, 2012 in World
As international accolades pour in for Russian punk band Pussy Riot, a Moscow court has released one of the three jailed activists, on probation.
RT News reports that a Moscow court has overturned the original verdict and released Ekaterina Samutsevich on probation. The member of the punk band had asked for a new lawyer earlier this month when the court began hearing appeals on behalf of the group.
Samutsevich claimed the defence lawyers were representing all three defendants and there were special circumstances surrounding her case. Her new lawyer argued that Samutsevich had been arrested before she was able to take part in the "punk prayer" in Moscow's main cathedral. The lawyer claims the activist was only in the church for 15-seconds and didn't take part in the protest because she barely had time to remove her guitar from her case, when she was removed from the church.
The court suspended Samutsevich's two-year jail term and released her on probation.
Mark Feigin, one of the defence lawyers, says, "we're glad that Yekaterina Samutsevich has been freed, but we think the other two girls should also be released," adding that the appeal for the other two accused would continue.
The reprieve comes just one day after the group was honored with the John Lennon Peace Prize in Reykjavik, Iceland. The band shares the award with Lady Gaga and late British journalist Christopher Hitchens.
Pussy Riot has also been shortlisted for this year's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, to be handed out by the European Parliament December 12.
Jailed Belarusian human rights activist Ales BIaliatski and two Iranians, lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and movie director Jafar Panahi have also been nominated for the award. Sotoudeh, who has defended opposition activists in Iran, was sentenced to 18 months in prison last year. And Panahi, who won awards at Cannes, Venice and other major film festivals, was found guilty of "making propaganda" against Iran's ruling government and sentenced to six years of house arrest and a 20-year ban on film making.
EU Parliamentarian Werner Schulz from the Green Party nominated the band, saying, “Andrei Sakharov himself would be extremely pleased to see the recognition of these creative and courageous young women.”
The European Parliament issued a statement saying the two year jail sentence handed to the three band members, focused "the world’s attention on the unscrupulous restriction of civil rights and the absence of the rule of law in Russia.”
The prize, named for the late Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov carries a 50,000 euro cheque. Previous winners include former Souther African President Nelson Mandela, Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya and East Timor leader Xanana Gusmao.
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