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Released from jail, Pussy Riot pair tear into Putin's amnesty

KRASNOYARSK/NIZHNY NOVGOROD Russia--Two members of Russian punk protest band Pussy Riot were freed from prison on Monday, deriding President Vladimir Putin's amnesty that led to their early release as a propaganda stunt and promising to fight for human rights.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 24, shouted “Russia without Putin” following her release from a Siberian prison, hours after band mate Maria Alyokhina, 25, was freed from jail in the Volga River city of Nizhny Novgorod.

They walked free days after former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was released under a pardon from Putin after more than 10 years in jail, a move widely seen as intended to improve Russia's image before it hosts the Winter Olympics in February.

“The border between being free and not free is very thin in Russia, a totalitarian state,” Tolokonnikova, looking relaxed and smiling in a black jacket and checkered shirt, told reporters outside prison in Krasnoyarsk.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were sentenced to two years in prison for a profanity-laced protest against Putin in a Russian Orthodox church in 2012 after a trial Kremlin critics said was part of a clampdown on dissent in his third presidential term.

The case caused an outcry in the West, but there was much less sympathy for the women at home than abroad.

They had been due for release in early March. Putin, who denies jailing people for political reasons, has said the amnesty would show that the Russian state is humane.

However, the measure will not benefit opposition leader Alexei Navalny, a vocal Putin foe who will be kept out of elections for years by a conviction and five-year suspended sentence on a theft charge he says was Kremlin revenge for his activism. Putin, in power since 2000, has not ruled out seeking another six-year term in 2018.

Alyokhina echoed critics who said the amnesty was far too narrow and aimed at deflecting criticism over human rights before the Olympics in the Black Sea city of Sochi on Feb. 7-23.

“I do not think it is a humanitarian act, I think it is a PR stunt,” she said by telephone in comments to the Russian Internet and TV channel Dozhd. “My attitude to the president has not changed.”

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Maria Alekhina, a member of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, second from left, speaks to the media at the Committee against Torture after being released from prison, in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, on Monday, Dec. 23. (AP)

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