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Russia releases jailed Pussy Riot pair

Krasnoyarsk/Nizhny Novgorod (Russia), Dec. 23 (Reuters): Two members of Russian punk protest band Pussy Riot were freed from prison today, 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 chequered 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.

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