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'We are not finished,' says freed Pussy Riot member

Sergey Ponomarev / AP

Freed feminist punk group Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich, center, speaks outside a court in Moscow Wednesday.

MOSCOW -- Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich said Wednesday the punk band would continue its political protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"We are not finished, nor are we going to end our political protest," she said in an exclusive interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "The situation in the country has deteriorated since our performance and the trial itself is a testimony to that."

A Russian appeals court on Wednesday upheld the two-year jail sentences handed down to two members of punk band Pussy Riot for a protest against Vladimir Putin in a cathedral, but freed a third member by suspending her sentence.

A Moscow City Court judge said the court was leaving the sentences in place for Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Maria Alyokhina, 24, and issuing a suspended sentence for Samutsevich, 30.

Samutsevich told CNN that Pussy Riot still exists, but added that the band will be more "cautious" in the future when staging anti-Putin events.

"We have to act in such a way that [the Russian authorities] do not learn about concerts ahead of time ... and arrest us," she said.

The three women were convicted in August of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for belting out a "punk prayer" in Moscow's main Orthodox cathedral imploring the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin.

"Of course I am very happy to be out and to be free," Samutsevich told CNN, "but I'm very upset that Nadezhda and Maria are still incarcerated."

Russian Orthodox Church to Pussy Riot punk band: Repent before appeal

The case sparked an international outcry, with Western governments and pop star Madonna condemning the sentences as disproportionate, a view not widely shared in Russia where public opinion was shocked by the protest.

Members of the all-girl punk band "Pussy Riot" (from left) Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass-walled cage in the Moscow court Wednesday.

The three band members said their performance was a political protest and that they have no animus toward Russian Orthodox faithful.

Before the ruling Wednesday, relatives and lawyers for the trio complained of political interference in the original trial and said that Putin's weekend comments on the case in an interview marking his 60th birthday had compromised the appeal. 

Members of the band Pussy Riot, arrested in February after storming a Moscow cathedral, were sentenced to two years in jail Friday. Critics say the arrest was Putin's personal revenge, raising questions about justice in Russia. NBC's Duncan Golestani reports.

 

Samutsevich told CNN the cathedral protest was intended as a criticism of the support given by the Russian Orthodox Church for Putin's re-election, and not as an expression of hatred aimed at believers.

"We believe that we live in a secular society and in this state, the principles of the secular society should be respected," she said. "The representatives of the church should not interfere with the politics of the country, and we wanted to highlight this problem through our action."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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