Pussy Riot Members Freed From Prison [Video]

Two Pussy Riot members were freed from prison on Monday. Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were serving two-year sentences for staging a protest against Russian President Vladimir V. Putin. Critics of the harsh punishment said the women were simply exercising free speech.

The performance group Pussy Riot consists of a group of women between the ages of 20 and 30. Although there are approximately 12 different performers, they regularly appear with their faces covered and are often identified by nickname.

While performing, the women wear colorful knit face masks called balaclava. During their shows, they use punk rock music, vivid imagery, and artwork, to promote feminist ideals, LGBT rights, and to protest the regime of Vladimir Putin.

In February 2012, five of the group's members staged a performance at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The women said the show was in protest of the church's support for Putin. Although the performance was halted, the women eventually continued their protest through a music video.

In March, Russian authorities arrested Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevich for their participation in the performance. All three were charged with and convicted of "hooliganism." The women were sentenced to two years in prison.

Although Samutsevich was eventually released through an appeal. Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova remained incarcerated.

As reported by CNN, the two Pussy Riot members are now free. The Russian government said the women were released under amnesty. The date marks the 20-year anniversary of Russia's post-Communist constitution.

Tolokonnikova said the decision was obviously part of a publicity stunt:

"President Putin obviously used this amnesty option to [improve] his image before the Olympic games.
The New York Times reports Alyokhina has a similar opinion about the release:
"I think this is an attempt to improve the image of the current government, a little, before the Sochi Olympics... But I don't consider this humane or merciful... This is a lie."

Following her imprisonment, Tolokonnikova has been vocal about the harsh and inhumane conditions inside Russia'a prisons. She spent a majority of her sentence in a Morodovian prison. However, following a hunger strike she was transferred to a Siberian prison for medical treatment. She remained in the Siberian facility until her release.

Pussy Riot members Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova are both looking forward to reuniting with their families, including their young children.