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Court rejects parole bid from Pussy Riot hunger striker

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A court in Russia's Urals Thursday rejected a request for parole by hunger-striking Pussy Riot punk rocker Maria Alyokhina, despite support from music luminaries including Paul McCartney.

The hearing in the town of Berezniki stalled for several hours as judge Mikhail Shagalov searched for a new legal representative for the 24-year-old convict, who launched a hunger strike over not being allowed to be present personally in the court room.

He then speedily read the decision to deny her a parole request after taking about an hour and a half to deliberate, as supporters blasted the proceedings as a formality with a predetermined result.

"This looked not like a court hearing but like arm-twisting," Alyokhina's mother Natalia told Svoboda Radio, which carried a live web video feed from the court.

"Clearly the court was not interested in the character of the convict, because the decision was likely made in advance."

Music great Paul McCartney sent Alyokhina a handwritten letter in her support ahead of the parole hearing, pleading with the court to set her free before the end of her two-year sentence for hooliganism.

"I believe that you granting this request would send a very positive message to all the people who have followed this case," the letter said, according to the singer's official website.

"My personal belief is that further incarceration for Maria will be harmful for her and the situation as a whole, which, of course, is being watched by people all over the world."

A new lawyer, an elderly man with dishevelled grey hair, looked confused sitting at the defence table as the judge read out names of people who sent letters supporting Alyokhina to the court, who included the singer Peter Gabriel as well as McCartney.

"Alyokhina's position regarding my participation in this process has not been voiced," the lawyer, Yevgeny Bardin, said meekly.

The activist's regular lawyer Irina Khrunova was not present in the hearing as her client had ordered a boycott by the defence.

A prison official present in court criticised Alyokhina's "lack of initiative in household chores," adding that she "is not repenting for what she has done."

"Parole is not recommended," she concluded. The recommendation was echoed by the prosecutor.

On Wednesday Alyokhina, who is serving a two-year sentence for performing a stunt in a Moscow cathedral, protested the decision not to transport her from the local prison colony to the hearing, where she could confer with her lawyer, study documents, and make a statement.

She then announced a hunger strike in protest and forbade her lawyers from participating in the proceedings until her presence is ensured.

Speaking over a video link with the colony, she said Wednesday her fate will now be decided by the "troika" consisting of the judge, prosecutor, and prison administrator.

This was a clear reference to the so-called special extrajudicial troikas that issued rapid sentences to the victims of Stalin's purges.

She was continuing her hunger strike Thursday after the court decision, according to her lawyer Khrunova.

Last month a different court denied bail to another Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who like Alyokhina has a young son waiting for her at home.

The women were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for their short performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour protesting President Vladimir Putin's close links with the Russian Orthodox Church.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130523/court-rejects-parole-bid-pussy-riot-hunger-striker