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Pussy Riot's Maria Alyokhina: 'I Was Always Free Because I Felt Free'

Russian activist/musician speaks out after being released from prison after nearly two years

Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot
Roman Yarovitsyn/Kommersant Photo via Getty Images
December 24, 2013 10:40 AM ET

On Monday, Pussy Riot's Maria Alyokhina was freed from jail after nearly two years of imprisonment for hooliganism. She immediately got to work. Within an hour of being released, she met with human rights defenders from the Committee Against Torture to discuss reforming Russia's prisons. The 25-year-old musician-activist also found time to speak with Rolling Stone about the reasons behind her release, the future of Pussy Riot and how she planted the seeds of prison reform on the inside.

Inside the Pussy Riot Trial

How does it feel to be free?
You know, I was always free, because I felt free. It's very important to be free inside. The most important thing is to feel free. You have the right to choose. Becoming conscious of that fact delivers a person.

Why did they release you now?
Simply because of Sochi. They wanted to make themselves more attractive before the Olympic games. That's why they decided to do the amnesty. But the amnesty is not general — it's a lie. I'm the only one who's been released [from camp] and that's the problem. They won't let anyone else out. Formally, it's a general amnesty, but it's a lie.

Is it true you wanted to turn down the amnesty?
I wanted to. I wanted to, but unfortunately it wasn't in my power. If I had had any possibility of doing so, I definitely would have refused this amnesty. I don't need it. I'm not guilty, I'm not a criminal, I don't consider it mercy.

Will Pussy Riot continue to exist?
[Pauses] I think it's best if we give more details when we appear together so there is no dissonance. We need to meet first. Everything needs to be talked about with Nadya. Whatever we do, will definitely be connected with that sort of action that we found effective. And on top of that, I would say that if a person is connected with art, it's forever. It's impossible to stop. It's something inside.

But you're planning to do something together?
It'll be a human rights defense organization, but of a new kind. We're going to use the brightness and illumination of media resources to reveal problems, focusing on the camps, but also perhaps more generally. We're still deciding on the form, but me and her are unanimous about this.

How were the last few months in prison?
My life's been very active so I haven't felt like a prisoner. I've been doing human rights [work], explaining to the women how they can solve their complaints themselves. And what's happened is that these women have decided to start taking up their problems with the administration themselves. This voice that has appeared here is so important. Because when a person in a Russian prison decides to start speaking, to start speaking the truth — they start to reject oppression. It's a very important, very significant thing.

Russian prisoners have to work 12-hour days and receive — you won't believe this — between one and 10 euros for a month's work. That's not enough for anything. Everyone knows this is unfair, but they couldn't prove [it]. I suggested how to prove it.

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