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Jailed Pussy Rioters switch legal team. A move away from politics?

The lawyers for the two jailed members of Pussy Riot withdrew on Monday, saying the politicization of the case was impeding their ability to represent their clients.

By Correspondent / November 20, 2012

Yekaterina Samutsevich, the member of Pussy Riot who was released from jail after her sentence was suspended on appeal, speaks to the media before a court hearing in Moscow today. The lawyers for the other two Pussy Riot defendants, who received two-year prison sentence, have withdrawn from the case and will be replaced by Ms. Samutsevich's lawyer.

Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

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Moscow

Three lawyers representing two imprisoned Pussy Riot punk rockers have withdrawn – or been fired – from the case amid general agreement that they are not able to effectively represent the women as the atmosphere around their jailing grows increasingly politicized.

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The lawyers announced their decision Monday, after being refused permission to visit their clients, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, who are being held in the IK-14 penal colony in the remote Volga republic of Mordovia.

The shakeup in the defense team comes just a few days after Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly sparred with German Chancellor Angela Merkel over the imprisonment of the two women, which Ms. Merkel suggested was too harsh.

Mr. Putin scolded Merkel, saying that she knew about the case only from "afar" and was not aware that two of the three Pussy Riot defendants had earlier participated in a "performance art" display with "anti-Semitic" overtones. Russia's blogosphere subsequently erupted in outrage, with many pointing out that the 2008 incident Putin was alluding to, which featured a mock hanging of "minority" archetypes, had actually been intended to draw attention to the indifference and discrimination non-Slavic migrants and other minorities face in Russian society.

"The main question is whether some of Putin aides misinformed him – either accidentally or on purpose – or he is aware of the facts and is deliberately misinforming Angela Merkel," Ms. Tolokonnikova's husband, Pyotr Verzilov, told journalists.

Obstacles to defense

Mark Feigin, Nikolai Polozov, and Violetta Volkova were the original three lawyers for the Pussy Riot members who were sentenced in August to two years in a penal colony for performing a blasphemous, anti-Putin "punk prayer" at the altar of Moscow's leading Orthodox cathedral.

"We can no longer protect our clients because of all the obstacles that are being thrown in the way," says Mr. Feigin. "We tried to visit Tolokonnikova at IK-14, and it was not allowed. If we can't help our clients while they are incarcerated in the colonies, then what's the use?"

He said it was agreed with the Pussy Riot women that if visits wouldn't be permitted, then the lawyers would withdraw. On Monday they did, and were replaced by Irina Khrunova, the lawyer who managed to get a suspended sentence for the third Pussy Riot defendant, Yekaterina Samutsevich, by stressing technical aspects – such as the fact that Ms. Samutsevich had been detained in the church before getting involved in the profane performance – and downplaying any political dimension in the case.

Paying the price for politics?

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