MOSCOW — Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Friday called for the release of the two members of punk band Pussy Riot after they began two-year terms in camps for hooliganism, saying they have already spent enough time behind bars.
"I would not put them in jail if I was a judge. I simply don't consider it right that they serve prison sentences," Medvedev said at a meeting with prize-winning school pupils.
"They have already been in jail long enough," he was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.
Two members of Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, arrived late last month at corrective labour camps in the Urals and central Russia after being found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.
They had already spent seven months in a Moscow pre-trial detention centre after their arrest in March and up to their conviction in August. They then spent several further months in detention during their appeal.
The women's plight won sympathy around the world including from stars such as Madonna and Yoko Ono, and raised international concerns about Russia's treatment of the political opposition.
A third member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, received a suspended sentence on appeal and was freed in court after the judge ruled she was grabbed by guards before she could take part in a protest song against President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral.
"The fact that one of them was freed, she was lucky," Medvedev said.
Medvedev, who is a lawyer by training, made the comments while taking questions from teenagers who had won competitions in school subjects.
A former Russian president, Medvedev, 47, stressed that he personally found the women "very unpleasant," adding that "I have some doubts that this group that is now famous not only in our country has anything to do with music."
"I don't think they have sung anything that would go down in the annals, not even of history, but even of the Internet," Medvedev said, suggesting that he has viewed the Pussy Riot video of their performance.
"There isn't any music there, I never heard anything."
He earlier reacted to the women's sentencing ahead of their appeal by saying that his personal opinion was that there was no benefit from them staying in prison any longer, after they had spent seven months in pre-trial detention.
By contrast, President Vladimir Putin in a television documentary last month joked about the women's two-year sentences and said ahead of their appeal that he believed the court took the right decision.
Days after losing their appeal, Tolokonnikova was transferred to a prison camp in the central Russian region of Mordovia, while Alyokhina was sent to a camp in the Urals city of Perm. Both women have small children.
The father of the freed Pussy Riot member, Stanislav Samutsevich, dismissed Medvedev's latest statement to the Moscow Echo radio station, saying that only Putin or the head of the Russian Orthodox Church could make a difference.
"If that was said by President Vladimir Putin or Patriarch Kirill, it would have some influence. But this is just the opinion of a private citizen that will make no difference to the fate of Nadia and Masha," he said.
A lawyer for the imprisoned women, Nikolai Polozov, told Moscow Echo that the defence team would now go to courts in the regions of women's camps to attempt to postpone their sentences until their children are older, a legal possibility.
It will also be possible for the women to apply for parole in March, he added.
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