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Pussy Riot women disown husband as group's spokesman

A file picture taken in New York on September 21, 2012, shows Pyotr Verzilov, husband of Nadia Tolokonnikova, one of the imprisoned Pussy Riot member, speaking with journalists during a presentation during which he received from artist Yoko Ono the "LennonOno Grant for Peace" on behalf of Pussy Riot. AFP PHOTO / EMMANUEL DUNAND

MOSCOW: The two members of feminist punk band Pussy Riot sentenced to two-year terms in a Russian prison camp accused the husband of one of them of falsely acting as their spokesman, in a new sign of a split within the group.

In a letter published on the website of Moscow Echo radio station and dated Thursday, the women, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, accused Tolokonnikova's husband Pyotr Verzilov of giving "illegitimate" interviews.

The two women will shortly be convoyed to prison camp to serve their sentences for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after they sang a song protesting against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main cathedral.

Verzilov, a member of the Voina (War) performance art group, has met stars including Madonna on behalf of the group, and recently travelled to the United States to collect a $50,000 peace prize for Pussy Riot from Yoko Ono.

"Pyotr Verzilov after our arrest seized representation and decision-making of Pussy Riot, which he could not do according to the group's ideology," wrote Tolokonnikova in the handwritten letter.

"The only person who can legitimately represent the group is a girl in a balaclava."

The letter accused Verzilov of breaching the group's "principle of anonymity" by appearing with an uncovered face and said he wrongly represented statements as agreed with the jailed women.

"To be honest I'm surprised," said the third woman Yekaterina Samutsevich, who was given a suspended sentence and freed on Wednesday, speaking via video-link to the independent TV Rain.

"When I talked to the girls in the prison van ... we did not once discuss Petya Verzilov nor the problem of someone 'occupying' the group's activities. Nothing like that."

Verzilov told AFP that he was not ready to comment on the letter.

"I do not understand it. We are going to find out what happened," he said.

The group's lawyer Nikolai Polozov wrote on Twitter that he distributed the letter and that the two women told him they had been visited last week by new lawyers hired by Verzilov.

"It's Nadia and Masha's decision. Last week three lawyers hired by Verzilov went to see them. It's possible that the letter is the result of this meeting."

He also said the women had viewed a lot of interviews and Twitter feeds over the last week and that "they had received alternative information and drawn conclusions."

Tolokonnikova named Verzilov as her husband in court, and the couple have a young daughter, Gera. The couple together took part in Voina performances including a public orgy in a Moscow museum.

The group Voina and Pussy Riot are closely linked. Another Pussy Riot member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, who was released with a suspended sentence Wednesday, took part in Voina actions including public kissing of policewomen.

Verzilov, who speaks fluent English, has frequently spoken to media and stars. He met Madonna before her Moscow concert at which the star revealed the words "Pussy Riot" written on her back.

In the letter Tolokonnikova argued there was "no post of producer or promoter in an anarchic punk group. Any attempts to occupy this post are treacherous to punk and to Pussy Riot."

"It is absurd when a man speaks in the name of a feminist punk group," defence lawyer Mark Feigin told Izvestia daily.

The group was already rocked when Samutsevich in a surprise move at the appeal stage said she disagreed with the defence's approach and hired new lawyers.

On Wednesday her lawyer successfully argued she deserved a lesser sentence because she was grabbed by guards almost as soon as the cathedral performance began.

 

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