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Freed Russian Punk Musicians to Work for Prisoners' Rights

Members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, released this week after two years in detention, say they plan to continue their activism but will focus their energies on human rights -- specifically, the rights of prisoners.

Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova spoke to reporters Friday in a Moscow news conference, their first since being released from prison earlier this week.

Alyokhina said work must be done to improve prison conditions. She said people in prison have difficulty finding jobs after their release. And she said activists must be the ones to help decrease the crime rate and the number of repeat offenses, because, in her words, government authorities will not do it.

Tolokonnikova added that the women are starting work on a human rights project that they plan to fund through crowdsourcing . She said they hope to work with oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was also recently pardoned and released after a decade in prison -- but she said they wanted his ideological cooperation, rather than his money. She said they do not plan to ask anyone for financial assistance.



The Pussy Riot musicians left their prisons in the Siberian city Krasnoyarsk Monday, hours apart. Both women have called their release a public relations stunt by the Russian government ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.

Tolokonnikova told reporters as she left prison that Russia is trying to prevent a possible boycott of the games. She urged people to remember less known prisoners who remain in jail.

Alyokhina said she would have preferred to remain in prison. She said her release was not "a humanitarian act."

The two women had been due to be released in March 2014. They were freed early after the Russian parliament passed an amnesty bill last week allowing for the release of thousands of inmates. The Pussy Riot band members qualified for the amnesty in part because they have young children.

The third member of the band, Yekarterina Samutsevich, was released and had her sentence suspended in 2012.

The women were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for performing a punk prayer against President Vladimir Putin on the altar of Russia's most prominent Orthodox church in early 2012.

Pussy Riot was protesting against the Orthodox church's support for Mr. Putin during his run for an third term as president. The jailing of the band members had sparked protests around the world with critics saying it was part of the Kremlin's growing clampdown on dissent.













SOUND BITES:

Pussy Riot 1 (Tolokonnikova, in Russian) "This is great, I am so happy that we came to Moscow. But we are very much in a hurry now, we have a lot of things to do, sorry. See you at the press conference."

Pussy Riot 2: (Alekhina, in Russian) "If we want a decrease in the crime rate, if we want thousands of people to be released, not with thoughts about repeated offenses, but with constructive ones, then we must work on it, and this is our job. The authorities will not do it."

Pussy Riot 3: (Alekhina, in Russian) "People absolutely have no idea what is going on in prisons. And the worst thing is that the majority of people aren't even interested in it. Nowadays, it is more convenient to exclude a person with a conviction, one who was in prison. And that person has difficulties finding a job. People move the prison topic away from their lives."

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