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Russian court rules to keep Pussy Riot member in jail

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A Russian court Friday ruled to keep a member of punk band Pussy Riot in prison, after she appealed an earlier decision denying her release on parole from her sentence over a church protest against President Vladimir Putin.

The supreme court in the region of Mordovia upheld an earlier court decision to deny parole to Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a court spokeswoman told AFP.

The ruling came after the prosecutor argued that Tolokonnikova was not "on the path to correction," said art group Voina, which is closely associated with Pussy Riot and followed the hearing on Twitter.

A court in April turned down Tolokonnikova's parole request because of reprimands issued in the penal colony and her refusal to repent.

Tolokonnikova, 23, is serving her sentence in a prison colony in the region of Mordovia some 500 kilometres (300 miles) southeast of Moscow.

She and her bandmate Maria Alyokhina were sentenced to two years in a penal colony last August after they sang a "Punk Prayer" against the Russian Orthodox Church's close ties with Putin in Moscow's Church of Christ the Saviour, Russia's top cathedral, in February 2012.

On Friday, Tolokonnikova said she would not repent and vowed to continue fighting her sentence.

"I will be contesting my sentence in courts of every level until the very end and will not admit guilt," she said in court in the regional capital of Saransk.

Her lawyer Irina Khrunova told AFP she would not contest Friday's decision. She noted that supporters of the punk rocker included even court bailiffs who shook Khrunova's hand after the hearing.

"Of course, you are right," she said they had told her.

Tolokonnikova is scheduled for release on March 3, 2014, according to her lawyer.

During her speech in court, Tolokonnikova said she was pleased to learn that thousands rallied in Moscow last week to protest the sentencing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny to five years in prison on fraud charges.

"I welcome the fact that in Russia there appear more and more people who sacrifice their comfort to protest injustice."

The feisty punk rocker pointed to persistent differences with prison management, saying she was reproached for refusing to participate in a beauty contest in her penal colony.

"From the colony's point of view, if you don't participate in the 'Miss Charm' beauty contest then you do not have an active life position," she was quoted as saying by Voina.

"My position on aesthetics clearly differs from the aesthetics of the head of the colony, the aesthetics of the Putin regime," she said from a defendant's cage, part quoting Nobel Prize-winning poet Joseph Brodsky

Tolokonnikova's husband Pyotr Verzilov said that security standing guard near her cage were rotating every 15 minutes. "Probably the guards cannot take it for longer," he quipped on Twitter.

He said security was so tight in the city that locals could not get to work in the morning after authorities sealed off the highway to bring the punk singer to court.

On Wednesday a court in the city of Perm, more than 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) east of Moscow, denied parole to Alyokhina. Both women have small children.

The convictions of the women on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred have been denounced by 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.

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 church before she could take part in the protest.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130726/russian-court-rules-keep-pussy-riot-member-jail