Pussy Riot: The story so far

  • 23 December 2013
  • From the section Europe

In less than three years, Pussy Riot has morphed from a little-known feminist protest band to an international cause celebre. As its two jailed members are freed from prison under an amnesty, the BBC News website recaps the group's story so far.

Controversial performance

Cathedral performance

Pussy Riot was founded in 2011, but shot to greater prominence after appearing in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in February 2012, to perform an obscenity-laced song called Punk Prayer which attacked the Orthodox Church's support for President Vladimir Putin.

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From left, Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

Several weeks after the cathedral stunt - which was was broken up by church officials - Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were arrested and charged with "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred".

They were held without bail until their trial in late July when they were convicted and sentenced to two years in prison. Samutsevich was freed on probation in October 2012, but Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina remained in jail.

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Demonstrators hold flags and a portrait, front, of jailed punk band Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, during an opposition rally in Moscow, Saturday, April 6, 2013

The case divided Russia with many feeling the women were being too harshly treated and made examples of as part of attempts to clamp down on opposition to the government. But others felt their actions were a gross offence to the Orthodox faith.

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Cause celebre

Demonstrators wear "Free Pussy Riot" balaclavas as they protest at the security fence surrounding the G8 Summit at Lough Erne in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland June 17, 2013

The trio's fate attracted much international attention. Musicians like Sting, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Madonna and Yoko Ono called for their release, while human rights groups designated them prisoners of conscience. Pussy Riot's distinctive coloured balaclavas became a widely-recognised symbol.

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Prison regime

Nadezda Tolokonnikova (left) from Pussy Riot punk Band in prison in Mordovia

The women - both mothers of young children - faced tough conditions inside Russia's prison system and had a number of parole requests turned down. Tolokonnikova (above left) complained of abuses by prison staff and went on hunger strike.

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Maria Alyokhina (L) and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

The pair's sentences were due to end in March 2014, but their release became inevitable in December after an amnesty law was signed by the Russian parliament, covering at least 20,000 prisoners, including mothers.

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Maria Alyokhina speaks to the media after her release

Mr Putin's critics see the amnesty as a bid to avoid controversy overshadowing Russia's hosting of the Winter Olympics in February. Maria Alyokhina - the first of the duo to be freed from jail - told a Russian TV channel that the amnesty was a PR stunt and she would rather have remained in prison.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova gestures as she walks out of prison in Krasnoyarsk

Tolokonnikova, gesturing as she walked out of a prison hospital in Siberia, said that together with Alyokhina she would set up a human rights group to help prisoners.

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