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Russia denies parole to Pussy Riot member

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Russia on Wednesday denied parole to a jailed member of punk band Pussy Riot from her two-year sentence for a protest against President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow church.

Maria Alyokhina, 25, had requested parole for the second time at a regional court in Perm, an industrial city more than 1,100 kilometres (680 miles) east of Moscow, after a district court ruled to keep her in jail in May.

Alyokhina is one of three members of Pussy Riot who were sentenced to two years in prison after they sang a "Punk Prayer" against the Russian Orthodox Church's close ties with Putin in Moscow's central Church of Christ the Saviour in February 2012.

Alyokhina and a bandmate were convicted and sentenced to jail in August 2012, while the third woman was given a suspended sentence on appeal.

Observers had expressed some hope that the Perm court would free Alyokhina, who has a young son at home, because she was unexpectedly told to pack her belongings and moved out of her penal colony in the town of Berezniki on July 12 to participate in the parole hearing.

However on Wednesday she was denied a personal presence in the courtroom, speaking to the judge via a video link. Her lawyers suspect that she will be transferred to a different penal colony after the hearing to serve out the rest of her sentence.

The convictions of the women on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred have been denounced as disproportionate by many liberal Russians and public figures around the world, from music legend Paul McCartney to Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

More than 100 famous musicians including Madonna, Elton John and Sting signed an open letter released on Monday appealing for the women to be freed.

"While understanding the sensitivities of protesting in a place of worship, we ask that the Russian authorities review these harsh sentences, so that you may return to your children, your families and your lives," stars wrote in the letter coordinated by rights group Amnesty International.

Wearing a striped dress and black headscarf Wednesday, Alyokhina complained in the fuzzy video feed that she had not been brought to the courtroom despite being transferred to a nearby prison, and had not been able to read legal papers.

More than five hours into the hearing, Alyokhina protested that she wanted to pull out and turned away from the camera.

"I announce that I am leaving this process since my rights are fundamentally breached here," Alyokhina was quoted as saying by political art group Voina, which followed the hearing in court, on its Twitter feed.

She then asked a prison guard to lead her away. But the court ruled that the hearing would continue with Alyokhina's lawyer Irina Khrunova representing her.

"Alyokhina's trial is a real mess. As usual," Russian opposition protest leader Alexei Navalny, who was temporarily freed from prison last week after being convicted of fraud, wrote on Twitter.

Her earlier request for parole was turned down after a prison official said she was unenthusiastic about doing chores and did not repent for her crime.

Alyokhina went on hunger strike over the prison authorities' refusal to allow her to attend the May hearing in person, instead transmitting her testimony via video link.

The second jailed Pussy Riot punk Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, is serving her sentence in a prison colony in the region of Mordovia some 500 kilometres (300 miles) southeast of Moscow and is due to attend a parole hearing in the regional capital of Saransk on Friday.

Tolokonnikova also had a parole request turned down in April because of reprimands issued in the colony and her refusal to repent.

The third Pussy Riot member to be convicted, Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, was freed on appeal with a suspended sentence after her lawyer argued she was grabbed by guards in the Moscow church before she could actually take part in the protest.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130724/russia-denies-parole-pussy-riot-member