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Paul McCartney steps up campaign to free Russian punk stars

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May 22, 2013 | 11:10pm EDT

Sir Paul McCartney has written letters to Russian authorities to personally request they free two jailed members of punk band Pussy Riot. Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were sentenced to two years at tough labour camps last year (12) for performing a protest song against President Vladimir Putin at a church in Moscow. Both women have applied for release on parole, but Tolokonnikova's request was rejected last month (Apr13) and Alekhina has begun a hunger strike from behind bars after she was refused permission to attend her parole hearing this week (beg20May13). Now The Beatles legend McCartney, who has previously expressed his support for the controversial band, has personally written two letters to officials in Russia to plead for mercy for the jailed pair. In a note referring to Alekhina, he writes, "My personal belief is that further incarceration for Maria will be harmful for her and the situation as a whole, which, of course, is being watched by people all over the world. In the great tradition of fair-mindedness which the Russian people (many of whom are my friends) are famous for, I believe that you granting this request would send a very positive message to all the people who have followed this case." In his letter about Tolokonnikova, he adds, "I have had a long relationship with the Russian people, and, with this in mind, I am making the following request in a spirit of friendship for my many Russian acquaintances who, like me, believe in treating people - all people, with compassion and kindness." A third Pussy Riot member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was freed on appeal in October (12) when her two-year sentence was commuted.

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