Pussy Riot punk wins victory on prison reprimands

A Russian court ordered the cancellation Friday of two formal reprimands against a jailed Pussy Riot member, in a move her supporters hailed as a rare victory for the embattled punk band.

Maria Alyokhina, who is serving a two-year sentence in a prison camp over a protest against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's cathedral last year, went to court to contest reprimands meted out for transgressions including getting up late and being rude to prison staff.

A court in the Perm region where she is imprisoned cancelled two of Alyokhina's four formal reprimands, but the others remain in place, court spokeswoman Yulia Medvedeva said.

The remaining reprimands mean Alyokhina, 24, cannot be released on parole.

Her lawyer Oksana Darova told AFP she would lodge a formal complaint about the remaining two reprimands.

Alyokhina and bandmate Nadezhda Tolokonnikova are serving two-year sentences for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for singing a "punk prayer" against Putin in the country's top church.

Court spokeswoman Medvedeva said the judge also ruled the prison service must correct its procedural violations in dealing with Alyokhina.

Alyokhina's public defender, rights activist Alexander Podrabinek, said the deputy head of the labour colony had admitted in court to altering internal documentation in order to issue reprimands.

"In practice, this was a falsification, although he did not use this word," Podrabinek told AFP.

Supporters hailed the result as a small but significant victory.

"This is a success, because even the slightest move in an inmate's favour in any such political case is quite a significant rarity," Podrabinek said.

"The court upheld Alyokhina's right to change the prison system and publicly reprimand (prison) management," the Voina (War) art collective closely affiliated with Pussy Riot wrote on Twitter.

Alyokhina said in court she wanted to defend her rights and those of her fellow inmates.

"I went to court for everyone who is powerless, everyone who is speechless, everyone who has been deprived of the right to speak by those who have been entrusted with power," the outspoken activist said in court Thursday in comments posted on the Echo of Moscow radio station website.

She lambasted the camp's rigorous daily regime, saying it was designed to break inmates and bring out their worst qualities.

"I believe that prisons reflect a general state of affairs in Russia. We all know what coercion, powerlessness and lawlessness is," she said.

Alyokhina has said in an interview with opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta that she had met a local rights ombudsman and complained that inmates did not have warm winter clothes and had to wash in cold water.

She said she had received death threats over her activism from long-serving prisoners who she believes cooperate with prison authorities.

Soon after the interview, the punk band's Twitter account said Alyokhina's camp had received a "huge shipment" of warm head scarves.

The Voina art collective said that in the small Urals town where she is serving time, Alyokhina was turning into something of a local celebrity.

"Residents of Berezniki like to say with straight faces: '(First president) Boris Yeltsin went to school in our town and now Maria Alyokhina is serving time here."

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