Freed Pussy Riot Members to Form Prisoners' Rights Organization

Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich

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Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, the two recently freed Pussy Riot members, don’t rule out art or political activities at some point, but plan to focus on prisoners’ rights protection in the immediate future. They also stressed that they have no plans of capitalizing on the Pussy Riot brand or even using it in the future.

“We feel a huge responsibility for people who are in prisons,” Tolokonnikova said at news conference in Moscow on Friday, the first one since the two women were released from prison on Dec. 23 under a recently adopted amnesty bill.

They were serving two-year sentences for the anti-Putin “punk prayer” they performed at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in February 2012 and were originally scheduled to be released in April 2014.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina said they will form a non-governmental human rights organization, “Zona Prava” (“Justice Zone”), focused on protecting prisoners’ rights. They also hope to collaborate with former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was released last week after ten years in prison, but rule out taking money from him.

“We won’t ask anyone for financial assistance,” Tolokonnikova said. “Khodorkovsky is very important for us as a very strong and resilient person. We hope to be able to collaborate on an ideological level.”

The new organization is to be financed via crowd-funding, with a board featuring, among others, opposition activist and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny, in charge of control over collected cash.

According to the former punk musicians, they don’t plan to play any shows or try to cash in on the Pussy Riot brand. “We are not Pussy Riot now,” Tolokonnikova said.

“We can promote our cause without playing any shows,” Alyokhina added. “And we will never play any shows for money.”

The two women said that their art activities in the short term will be linked to prisoners’ rights protection, including art programs for inmates, as the current cultural situation in Russian prisons is so bad that it requires a “cultural revolution,” they said.

Similarly, they don’t have any political plans for the immediate future. “I wouldn’t rule out political plans, but in the near future we will be focused on human rights activities,” Tolokonnikova said.

“Still, human rights activities in Russia are inevitably linked to politics,” Alyokhina added.

According to the two women, one of the ideas they’ll be trying to promote is access for members of international human rights organizations to Russian prisons for inspections.

Yekaterina Samutsevich, the third jailed Pussy Riot member, who was released on probation in October 2012, is welcome to join the new activities of the other two, they said.

“If she wants to help us with what we’re doing now, we will only be glad,” Alyokhina said.

Although the two women said they might face a new crackdown from the authorities after the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, they have no intention of leaving the country.

“We won’t leave,” Alyokhina said. “This is a done deal.”

They again called on the West to boycott the Olympics. “Attending the Olympics is the endorsement of Russia’s internal policies,” Tolokonnikova said.

Held at the offices of the oppositionist TV station Dozhd, the news conference was attended by several dozen local and foreign reporters. The atmosphere was relaxed as most questions and the general attitude of the reporters were sympathetic. Smartly dressed and made up, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina seemed to feel at ease.

This story originally appeared in the Hollywood Reporter.