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Putin agrees to release jailed Pussy Riot members as part of amnesty bill

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced that he will free two jailed members of punk feminist group Pussy Riot as part of a broader amnesty program in the lead-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were sentenced to two years in prison in 2012 for participating in an anti-Putin "punk prayer," part of what's seen as a larger crackdown on protest and political speech. Now, they're expected to be free several months ahead of the end of their sentences, released alongside the "Arctic 30," a group of crew and protesters on a Greenpeace ship who were jailed after ignoring orders to stay out of a Russian shipping route.

The decision was all but final yesterday, when Russia's parliament passed a Putin-supported amnesty bill aimed at first-time offenders, but it wasn't absolutely clear who was going to be released. NBC News reports that Putin still maintains that the protest, not the prison sentence, was the real problem. "I feel sorry for Pussy Riot not for the fact that they were jailed, but for disgraceful behavior that has degraded the image of women," he said. The releases, meanwhile, will likely lighten scrutiny of Russia's prison system, which was widely criticized last year after Tolokonnikova announced a hunger strike in an open letter that described brutal living and working conditions at her penal camp; she was later hospitalized and moved to another prison.

In the same press conference, Putin also raised one of the biggest points of tension between the US and Russia this year: the decision to offer Edward Snowden temporary amnesty. Snowden is cleared to stay in the country until mid-2014, and he recently sought and was denied permanent asylum in Brazil. "Thanks to Mr. Snowden, a lot has changed in the minds of people around the world," he said. However, he denied meeting Snowden or helping him beyond granting asylum. "He's noble — but he has his own activities and I have my own."

The Verge
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