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Freed Pussy Riot Member Vows to Continue Fighting for Jailed Friends

Pussy Riot

Yekaterina Samutsevich is the only member of Pussy Riot to have been released from prison after being charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” for performing an anti-Vladimir Putin song in a Moscow cathedral this summer. Despite having gained her freedom, she is not backing down, nor is she giving up the fight to free the two incarcerated members of her Russian art-punk collective.

Since gaining her freedom, she has been looked upon as getting off easy, while two of her best friends, Maria (Masha) Alyokhina and Nadezhda (Nadya) Tolokonnikova, rot in jail. Samutsevich doesn’t feel guilty, and instead, she’s taken it upon herself to speak on their behalf, in the name of the group. This is among the many things she revealed in an in-depth interview with The Guardian.

Samutsevich’s lawyer argued that since she was booted from the church before the controversial performance began, her guilt was subject to debate. Meanwhile, Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova are serving two years each in labor camps far from their homes and young children.

“Now that I’ve been let out early, I can be here and free and speak in the name of the group,” Samutsevich said. “We took part in the trial and only we saw it from inside. Now I can tell everyone about that. Unfortunately Nadya and Masha can’t, since they’re in jail.”

Samutsevich claims their “right to defense” was violated, and she calls the situation one of “despair.” She says that the structure of the trial prevented them from adequately defending themselves.

“They didn’t listen to us,” she said. “We could have sat downstairs, where you wait till you’re taken to the courtroom, and not go in at all and everything would’ve gone the same way. The fact that we took part physically [in the trial] didn’t actually change anything.”

Even though she is free, she’s fighting for the cause, and an appeal to a European court of human rights is being filed. She considers what she does political art, which is why her friends are paying a steep political price.

“Right now, I’m just dealing entirely with the all the Pussy Riot court case, because it’s not over,” said Samutsevich, who graduated from a photography school.

Earlier this month, Samutsevich spoke with Tolokonnikova, who is in a prison colony in Mordovia, for the first time since October. Her friend revealed she is having bad headaches, and that her punishment consists of sewing uniforms for prison and police officials. “She’s doing everything she can to get parole. And she said, ‘Don’t stop, do everything to set me free,’” Samutsevich said.

While her requests to speak to Alyokhina have been denied, Samutsevich still meets with the other members of the Pussy Riot collective, including the two members who performed inside the church but were never caught or tried. She claims they all want to continue to protest as Pussy Riot. But they have to mind their Ps and Qs, since the government is well aware of them now, which is frustrating.

“If you believe Putin has limitless power, against which it’s impossible to do anything, then you get depressed,” she said. “You start to think that you have no other way, that from the start, when you make some sort of political gesture, especially in the realm of art, then from the start you’ll go to jail, that you can do nothing against Putin, that no one will help you. It seems to me a harmful way of thinking. One needs to change one’s thinking, you need to think, on the contrary, about fighting, about gathering strength for the struggle.”

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