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Pussy Riot member Alyokhina leaves Russian prison following amnesty

AFP-JIJI, AP

Maria Alyokhina, one of the jailed members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, was freed from prison Monday after receiving an amnesty, her lawyer and prison officials said.

“Today around 9 a.m. she walked out to freedom,” said Yelena Nikishova, the spokeswoman of the Russian prison service in Nizhny Novgorod.

Her lawyer, Pyotr Zaikin, told RIA Novosti that the 25-year-old was apparently headed to the train station in the city in a prison convoy.

Reporters waiting for her outside her prison colony in Nizhny Novgorod did not get a chance to speak with her after she was whisked away, her other lawyer said.

Alyokhina and band mate Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 24, whose two-year sentences for hooliganism in a Moscow church would have run out in early March, were granted amnesty last week after parliament approved a Kremlin-backed bill.

Tolokonnikova, who is serving time in a Siberian prison, is also expected to be released this week, said her husband, Pyotr Verzilov.

The two women were convicted and jailed on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after staging a “punk prayer” in Moscow’s largest cathedral in February 2012, ahead of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s re-election as president, to protest the Orthodox Church’s support of the strongman during the campaign.

Their jailing turned them from almost unknown rebel punks on the fringes of Russian society to the stars of a global cause celebre symbolizing the repression of civil dissent under Putin.

Alekhina’s release comes days after Putin pardoned Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, who spent a decade in prison after challenging Putin’s power. Khodorkovsky flew to Germany after release and said he will stay out of politics. He pledged, however, to fight for the release of political prisoners in Russia.