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Russian punk band member withdraws release plea in solidarity with bandmate

By Anastasia Gorelova

Jailed Pussy Riot punk band member Maria Alyokhina withdrew her plea for an early release on Friday in a show of support for a bandmate now in hospital after going on hunger strike to protest over prison conditions.

Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova are serving a two-year sentence for what critics termed a profanity-laden protest against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral.

“I do not have any moral right to take part in this court hearing at a time when my friend and fellow convict Nadezhda Tolokonnikova does not have such opportunity,” Alyokhina told the court in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod.

“She is currently in hospital or back in that same prison which we have heard horrible things about.”

Tolokonnikova was admitted to a prison hospital last month after going on a hunger strike to protest against what she called “slave labor” at Corrective Colony No. 14 in the Mordovia region, southeast of Moscow, where she is serving her sentence.

Tolokonnikova and two other band members were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for a February 2012 protest in which they burst into Christ the Saviour Cathedral and prayed to the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin.

Kremlin critics say their trial was part of a crackdown on dissent since Putin started a third term at the Kremlin in May 2012.

Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova are both due for release in March. A third band member had her sentence suspended.

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