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Yekaterina Samutsevich

A Moscow court has freed Yekaterina Samutsevich, one of the convicted women from the punk band Pussy Riot, but upheld two-year jail terms for the other two.

There were cheers in court when the two-year jail term of Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, was suspended.

Earlier the trio spoke defiantly at the appeal hearing, saying their protest song was political and not anti-Church.

In August they were jailed for staging an anti-Kremlin protest in Moscow’s main cathedral, Christ the Saviour.

Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, were found guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”.

Their imprisonment sparked widespread international condemnation.

The judges on Wednesday accepted the argument of Yekaterina Samutsevich’s lawyer – that she had been thrown out of the cathedral by guards before she could remove her guitar from its case for the band’s “punk prayer”.

The other band members cheered and hugged Yekaterina Samutsevich when the decision was read out.

The two-year jail term of Yekaterina Samutsevich was suspended

The two-year jail term of Yekaterina Samutsevich was suspended

One of the defence lawyers, Mark Feigin, said “we’re glad that Yekaterina Samutsevich has been freed, but we think the other two girls should also be released”. The appeal process would continue, he said.

Yekaterina Samutsevich’s father reacted with the words: “What happiness! But what a shame about the other girls – they don’t deserve such a harsh punishment.”

Earlier Maria Alyokhina told the hearing: “We’re all innocent… the verdict should be overturned. The Russian justice system looks discredited.”

Maria Alyokhina said that “of course we didn’t want to offend worshippers” when they protested at the cathedral’s altar.

She said the trio’s apologies had been ignored, but repentance was out of the question.

“For us to repent – that’s unacceptable, it’s a kind of blackmail,” she said, adding that repentance was a personal matter, unconnected with a legal case.

She added she had “lost hope in this trial”.

The three women sat in a glass cage in court, facing a three-judge panel.

The band performed an obscenity-laced song at the Moscow cathedral on 21 February.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova told the court “it’s as clear as daylight that this was a political act, not anti-religious… I ask you to quash this sentence”.

Maria Alyokhina warned that if they were sent to a penal colony for two years “we won’t stay silent – even in Mordovia, or Siberia – however uncomfortable that is for you”.

Their “punk prayer” – which implored the Virgin Mary to “throw out” President Vladimir Putin and sought, the band said, to highlight the Russian Orthodox Church leader’s support for the president – enraged the Church.

But while the Church hierarchy said the women’s action “cannot be left unpunished”, it added that any penitence shown should be taken into consideration.

Those comments followed a suggestion from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that a suspended sentence would have been sufficient punishment.

But Vladimir Putin last week defended the sentence, speaking on Russian NTV television.

“It’s right that they were arrested, it’s right that the court took that decision, because you can’t undermine the foundations of morality, our moral values, destroy the country. What would we be left with then?” Vladimir Putin said.

Opinion polls in Russia suggest a majority backing the sentence against Pussy Riot. One poll found 43% of respondents considered the sentence too lenient.

On Wednesday the judge rejected two motions from defence lawyers to call in experts for their opinions and more witnesses from the cathedral. The defendants’ plea to hold a fresh psychological and linguistic evaluation of their protest song was also rejected.