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Russia PM Medvedev: Pussy Riot members should be freed

Three members of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot remain in jail after a performance in protest of Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral. NBC's Michelle Kosinski reports.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday he thought that three female members of punk band Pussy Riot who were sentenced to two years in jail for a political protest in a Moscow cathedral should be freed.

Medvedev, who was president for four years until May, appeared to be trying to disassociate himself from the jail terms that were condemned as excessive by the West and rights groups at home, as well as by liberal Russians.

As president, Medvedev styled himself as a liberal reformer, and though he handed the presidency back to Vladimir Putin he has made it clear he wants to remain in politics and perhaps even return to the presidency one day.

The three band members -- Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich -- were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred on Aug. 17 after belting out a profanity-laced song criticizing Putin on the altar of Moscow's main cathedral in February.

Russian court sentences Pussy Riot rockers to 2 years in prison

They have been in jail since March and their appeal proceedings are due to begin on Oct. 1.


Dmitry Astakhov / AP

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

"The prolongation of their incarceration in the conditions of jail seems to me to be unproductive," Medvedev said in televised remarks. "A suspended sentence, taking into account time they have already spent (in jail), would be entirely sufficient."

However, Medvedev also criticized the women, saying he was "sickened by what they did, by their looks, by the hysteria which followed what had happened."

He said prison is "very, very strict" punishment as a rule.

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Medvedev emphasized he was expressing his personal view only and was not seeking to influence the case.

According to the BBC, it is unclear whether his comments could bring about a softening of the women's sentences. Medvedev's influence in Russia is limited, the report added.

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The band members had faced up to seven years in prison, but Putin said during the trial that they should not be judged "too harshly" and prosecutors subsequently requested three-year sentences; they were sentenced to two years each in the end.

In a television interview last week, Putin declined to comment on whether he believed the sentences were fitting, saying he was not interfering in the case.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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