UK
23/12/2013 08:40 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 06:38 GMT

Pussy Riot Released From Prison, But They'd Rather Stay There Than Accept Putin's Amnesty

The jailed Pussy Riot bandmates are free today under a controversial amnesty, after they were imprisoned for hooliganism for an anti-Putin punk protest at a Moscow cathedral.

The pair are freed under a controversial amnesty bill passed by the Russian parliament last week, which grants the release of 25,000 "vulnerable" inmates, those who are elderly, sick or pregnant.

Both Pussy Riot members qualify because they are mothers of young children.

First, Masha Alyokhina was released from the prison colony outside Nizhny Novgorod, pictured on a smart phone by a human rights activist, leaving in a bottle green prison rain jacket, with a sticker on her chest saying her name and "Pussy Riot".

Alyokhina spoke on Dozhd TV, saying she would have preferred to have stayed in prison, but had no option t to accepted the amnesty, calling it a “profanation.”

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Masha Alyokhina, freed from prison in here

"I don't think the amnesty is a humanitarian act, I think it's a PR stunt. If I had a choice to refuse I would," she added.

Human rights activists were waiting to greet her, with Alyokhina telling reporters she wanted to meet her bandmate Nadya Tolokonnikova before speaking to journalists.

Tolokonnikova was released a few hours later from a prison hospital in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, where she was being treated following a hunger strike. Pictures showed her looking calm, well-groomed and poised as she was besieged by reporters, as she said a few words on her release, stating an intention to set up a human rights group.

"This is just the beginning," she said.

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Nadezhda Tolokonnikova speaks to the media after leaving a prison in Krasnoyarsk

Tolokonnikova's husband Pyotr Verzilov told the BBC before her release that the amnesty "was a bit of an image-lightening process for President Putin".

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The badge on the jacket of Masha Alyokhina

Analysts believe that the amnesty, as well as the release of Russia's most famous prisoner, the Kremlin critic and former oil tycoon Mikhail Khordokovsky, is an attempt to stem criticism of Russia's justice system and human rights before the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

The Arctic 30 Greenpeace protesters are also free under the amnesty.

The third Pussy Riot protester, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was given a suspended sentence in October last year, because she had been thrown out of the cathedral before reaching the altar to perform.