Could Russian punk activists Pussy Riot be freed?

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said this week he thinks the prison sentences of three of the punk group’s members should be suspended.

In this Aug. 17, 2012 file photo, feminist punk group Pussy Riot members, from left, Maria Alekhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova show the court's verdict as they sit in a glass cage at a courtroom in Moscow. (Mikhail Metzel/Associated Press)

Three Pussy Riot members — Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29  are appealing their two-year sentence to hard labor for singing a “punk prayer” against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

Reuters reported that Medvedev said this week in televised remarks to members of the ruling United Russia party, “A suspended sentence, taking into account time they have already spent, would be entirely sufficient.”

But Medvedev made it clear that he doesn’t support the band or their actions.

Since their arrest in February, rock groups such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Duran Duran and Green Day have rallied for the band.

“I think it's just freedom of expression. Civil liberties,” Billie Joe Armstrong, Green Day’s lead singer said before an appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards. “Always speak your mind, always speak the truth, no matter the cost.”

In a video released last week by members of Pussy Riot, the group, wearing their now infamous ski masks and rappelling down a concrete wall, scream, “We've been fighting for the right. . . to change our country.”

In the video, which members say was filmed abroad by members who have escaped Russia, the women set fire to a huge image of Putin and say, “Our country is dominated by evil men. These men think it's illegal to call yourself a feminist, to sing punk music. These men think it's illegal to stand up for the rights of the gay and lesbian community. These men think that you can't criticize your government. These men think that if you sing and dance in an inappropriate way, you get two years in prison.”

Even if Pussy Riot is released, they are not likely to go away nor should they. The world, and yes, even the United States, desperately needs women like Pussy Riot for enlightenment and inspiration.

On Thursday, the European Parliament nominated the jailed members for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. That same day Pussy Riot members said in another interview that they were planning another protest. Next week, a collection of writings by Pussy Riot will be released as an e-book by The City University of New York’s Feminist Press.

For all the hoopla, Pussy Riot is forcing change in Russia and waking up the country — and the world — to the war on women and freedom of expression in their country.

Last Sunday, a concert called “Free Pussy Riot Fest” went ahead as planned in St. Petersburg although authorities tried to stop it. According to The Moscow Times, the band’s lawyers, Violetta Volkova and Nikolai Polozov, made speeches before the concert.

On Thursday, the European Parliament adopted a resolution about “the deteriorating climate” for the development of civil society in Russia including the Pussy Riot case.

The resolution states that the parliament is “deeply disappointed with the verdict and the disproportionate sentence” against Pussy Riot and described it as “politically motivated intimidation of opposition activists.”

On Friday, Russian’s Foreign Ministry, of course, criticized the resolution.

Pussy Riot is appealing their sentence on Oct. 1. It’s unlikely, say many in Russia watching the case, that Medvedev’s statement will have any influence over the judge. In the same televised remarks, Medvedev said, “I am sick over what they did, of their public appeal and the hysteria that surrounds them,” he said.

Mr. Medvedev, that’s what happens when people are jailed and take their campaign global to shed light on repression. Get used to it.

Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.” Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker