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Russia's Jailed Pussy Riot Members Change Lawyers

  • VOA News

FILE - Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (L) and Maria Alyokhina, members of female punk band "Pussy Riot", look out from the defendent's cell in a courtroom in Moscow, July 30, 2012.

FILE - Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (L) and Maria Alyokhina, members of female punk band "Pussy Riot", look out from the defendent's cell in a courtroom in Moscow, July 30, 2012.

The two jailed members of the Russian all-female punk band Pussy Riot have replaced their legal team. Their lawyers cited public pressure for their decision to quit.

Mark Feigin, one of the lawyers for Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, confirmed the news Monday, saying they had been refused a meeting with Tolokonnikova at the prison camp where she is being held. He said they had earlier agreed with their clients that under such circumstances, they would leave the case. He added they did not want to expose the women to any more danger.

Tolokonnikova's husband, Pyotr Verzilov, said the women now will be represented by Irina Khrunova, the lawyer who helped free their band mate, Yekaterina Samutsevich.

In October, an appeals court ordered the release of Samutsevich, but upheld the two-year jail sentences of the other two band members for an unsanctioned protest at a Moscow cathedral. A judge suspended Samutsevich's sentence, saying guards threw her out of the cathedral before she could take part in the performance.

All three members were convicted in August of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. They have argued their impromptu performance was political in nature and not an attack on religion.

Samutsevich, represented by Khrunova, has filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in connection with the case.

The trio was arrested on the altar of Russia’s most prominent Orthodox cathedral in January, after they called on the Virgin Mary to deliver them from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has said he thought the punishment was very strict. Putin has said, however, the court ruling was correct.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to each other after a signing ceremony during a Russian-German business forum in the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Friday, Nov. 16, 2012.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to each other after a signing ceremony during a Russian-German business forum in the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Friday, Nov. 16, 2012.

Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel clashed with Putin over the two-year jail sentences imposed on the Pussy Riot members, and expressed Germany's concern about the passage of laws in Russia that could be used to stifle dissent.

Putin has faced vocal protests at home and tough criticism from abroad since taking over his third term as Russia's president, with rights groups accusing his administration of stifling freedoms and cracking down on dissent. Most recently, Russia's new laws on treason and slander have raised widespread concerns for restricting contact with foreign organizations.

Putin in turn has accused his critics of interfering in Russia's internal affairs and of seeking to foment anti-government sentiment in Russia.
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