Pussy Riot's Nadya Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina Freed from Prison

Pussy Riot's Nadya Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina Freed from Prison
After a nearly two-year debacle surrounding Pussy Riot's political protest in a Moscow church, members Nadya Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina have been freed from prison. The punk musicians were both released earlier this morning (December 23) due to a recently passed amnesty law.

Alyokhina was released from a facility in Nizhny Novgorod this morning, while Tolokonnikova left custody from a prison in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk later in the day. The move comes a few days after Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed his government would be giving amnesty to those "who haven't committed violent crimes, first-time offenders, minors and women with small children."

While this included Pussy Riot, an interview with Alyokhina had the musician questioning the motives of the political leader.

"I think this is an attempt to improve the image of the current government, a little, before the Sochi Olympics — particularly for the Western Europeans," she told the New York Times, suggesting the amnesty law is tied to the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in February. "But I don't consider this humane or merciful. This is a lie."

She added, "We didn't ask for any pardon. I would have sat here until the end of my sentence because I don't need mercy from Putin."

Alyokhina's suspicions come in light of Putin confirming in a press conference last week that he wasn't a fan of Pussy Riot's "punk prayer," calling their halted performance at a Moscow church in 2012 a "disgraceful" protest.

"I was not sorry that they [the Pussy Riot members] ended up behind bars," Putin said. "I was sorry that they were engaged in such disgraceful behaviour, which in my view was degrading to the dignity of women."

The performance of "Punk Prayer: Mother of God Drive Putin Away" took place in February 2012 and was quickly shut down. Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and fellow group member Yekaterina Samutsevich had been kept in custody for months before being handed down a a two-year sentence for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" in August 2012.

The band's plight received attention around the world, with activists and artists from all corners of the globe voicing their opposition to the Russian government's handling of the situation. As the months went on, Samutsevich was granted an early release, while other members faced parole denials and staged hunger strikes. The disappearance of Tolokonnikova during a prison transfer had also been brought to attention last month.