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Pussy Riot rocker slams 'strange game' after release

MOSCOW -- A member of the anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot freed unexpectedly from prison said there was no split within the group and accused the authorities of playing a “strange game” against the women in comments released Thursday.

A Russian appeals court on Wednesday unexpectedly ordered the release of Yekaterina Samutsevich, but upheld the two-year prison camp sentences of her two bandmates Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova.

The trio were contesting their conviction for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after they performed a song mocking President Vladimir Putin in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Russia's top church, in February.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with the liberal television channel REN-TV that is due to air on Saturday, Samutsevich denied there was a split in the band.

“All of us have the same convictions. We've never thought about changing them,” the 30-year-old said in the interview, excerpts of which have been posted online.

“Maybe it was a move by the authorities,” she said of the women's case. “Some strange game of the authorities is beginning.”

“To me, it is a campaign of calculated harassment by the authorities,” she added, referring to what she called one-sided coverage on state television of the controversial case that polarized the predominantly Orthodox country.

On Thursday a senior Russian Orthodox Church cleric sharply criticized the women, saying they had not repented and so their act of desecration would remain on their consciences.

The women's “formal apologies have nothing to do with repentance in my view,” said Vladimir Legoida, the chairman of the Synod's information department, in a comment published on its website.

Samutsevich's release came after she changed her lawyer in a surprise move at the first appeal hearing on Oct. 1.

Judges said Samutsevich received a suspended sentence because she played a more minor role in the “Punk Prayer” performance, having been apprehended by security before it had properly begun.

In a highly unusual move, the judge who delivered the ruling held a news conference the next day, seeking to deflect criticisms that her decision might have been influenced by pressure from the Kremlin.

Her colleague who participated in the appeal hearing said Samutsevich had been freed because she did not make any noise in the church.

Polyakova added the three judges at the hearing had concluded that Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova's behavior could not be corrected unless they were isolated from society.

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