Jailed Pussy Riot protester appeals to Russia's high court

MOSCOW Thu Nov 7, 2013 7:18am EST

Member of the female punk band ''Pussy Riot'' Nadezhda Tolokonnikova looks out from a holding cell as she attends a court hearing to appeal for parole at the Supreme Court of Mordovia in Saransk, July 26, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Member of the female punk band ''Pussy Riot'' Nadezhda Tolokonnikova looks out from a holding cell as she attends a court hearing to appeal for parole at the Supreme Court of Mordovia in Saransk, July 26, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Pussy Riot punk band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has asked Russia's Supreme Court to throw out her conviction and two-year prison sentence, her lawyer said on Thursday.

Tolokonnikova and two bandmates were found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for bursting into Russia's main cathedral and belting out a profanity-laced "punk protest" against Vladimir Putin in February 2012.

"We have lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court," Tolokonnikova's lawyer, Irina Khrunova, said by telephone.

Tolokonnikova, 24, started a hunger strike in September, demanding a transfer from a prison where she said that a official had threatened her life and that inmates faced inhumane conditions including 17-hour work days.

Prison authorities said on October 18 that Tolokonnikova would be moved, and Khrunova said there were indications she had been transferred to a prison in Siberia, about 3,600 km (2,250 miles) east of Moscow, but that she was unable to confirm it.

"I do not know for sure because they are hiding her," Khrunova said, adding that she had been unable to contact Tolokonnikova for nearly three weeks. "I cannot say anything for sure until I hear from my client."

Amnesty International urged Russian authorities on Wednesday to tell relatives where she is and give her access to a lawyer.

A prison service spokeswoman said the authorities cannot disclose the whereabouts of prisoners, except to relatives.

Tolokonnikova's husband Pyotr Verzilov, who has also said there were indications she was transferred to a prison in the Krasnoyarsk region of Siberia, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Pussy Riot bandmate Yekaterina Samutsevich was freed last year when her sentence was suspended on appeal, but courts have rejected several pleas to release Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, 25, before their sentences end in early March.

Khrunova said the appeal included an argument that the protest, which band members said was meant to criticize close ties between Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church, was not motivated by religious hatred and was non-violent.

Western governments have called the two-year sentences excessive and Kremlin critics denounced the charges as part of a clampdown on dissent under Putin, who won a third term as president a week after the Pussy Riot protest.

The protest offended many in predominantly Orthodox Christian Russia. A poll conducted in April by the independent Levada Center found that 56 percent believed the sentences were appropriate while 35 percent said the punishment was too harsh.

(Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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