Pussy Riot member denied early release by court

MOSCOW (AFP) - A Russian court on Wednesday turned down a request by a jailed member of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot to defer serving her jail sentence until her five-year-old son is older.

"The court has ruled not to satisfy the petition," the judge said at Berezniki city court in the Perm region of the Urals, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Maria Alyokhina, 24, had asked the court to allow her not to serve the remainder of her two-year prison term - handed down for a stunt performance in a Moscow church in which the band denounced President Vladimir Putin - until her son Filipp is a teenager.

Under Russian law, a court can allow a woman convicted of a minor crime not to serve the sentence until her child turns 14. "I am really wishing for a small miracle and for there to be some real people in this court who show some humanity and think about children," Alyokhina told the court, quoted by the RAPSI legal news agency.

But judge Galina Yefremova said Alyokhina's sentence already took into account the fact that she had a young child.

"We have not established any new circumstances to soften the sentence," the judge said after prosecutors asked her not to grant the request.

International rights group Amnesty International criticised the ruling, calling it a "further travesty of justice." News reports said Alyokhina planned to appeal.

Alyokhina was sentenced to two years in August last year along with fellow band members, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after they sang a "punk prayer" critical of Mr Putin in Russia's main cathedral.

The band's case galvanised international attention and brought renewed criticism of Mr Putin for his treatment of human rights concerns.

Russian television showed Alyokhina on Wednesday smiling as she arrived at the courthouse in a police van wearing a grey knitted shawl, a black top and grey trousers.

Inside the courtroom she sat in a glass-framed aquarium-like box, flanked by police and guards.

The judge questioned her on the way her son is living now, arguing that he is in good hands being cared for by family members.

The prosecutor commented on formal reprimands issued to Alyokhina while she has been in prison - including for watching television after lights out - and said that she had not received any commendations.

Of the other band members, Samutsevich had her sentence suspended in October on the grounds that security guards grabbed her before she could take part in the stunt.

Tolokonnikova has a young daughter and has filed a similar request to Alyokhina's.

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