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Punk band Pussy Riot: politicians attending Olympics should criticize Russia's human rights

AMSTERDAM - Two members of the punk band Pussy Riot are urging politicians attending the Winter Olympics to criticize human rights abuses in Russia.

Appearing in Amsterdam during their world speaking tour, Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin "can be influenced by foreign political pressure" — but only statements made in public.

Tolokonnikova said anything told to Putin or his circle behind closed doors "they'll just nod their heads and ignore."

The two performers were sentenced in August 2012 to two years in prison for hooliganism after an irreverent performance blasting Putin in Moscow's main cathedral.

Footage of the young women wearing balaclavas and screaming obscene lyrics in the Orthodox church were broadcast around the world as was the trial that followed. As inmates, they were considered political prisoners by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others.

They were released from prison in December in what was widely seen as a public relations move ahead of the Olympics, which begin in Sochi, Russia, next week.

In Amsterdam on Friday they wore plain clothes and spoke about what they regard as the dangers of Putin, who they see as a despot.

They also criticized Russia's law banning pro-homosexual propaganda and the risks — including beatings — that homosexuals and other minority groups can face in Russia if they speak out.

Tolokonnikova thanked foreigners who have supported them and drew attention to the Pussy Riot case while they were in prison.

She said she believes protests can lead to change, adding: "Putin's system is much weaker than it seems."

Because Russia's political system discourages demonstrations in general, people "don't see the possibility to protest, (but) if they find their way, if they are shown the possibility, well then, yes, the system will start shaking and will fall down."

The two performers said Pussy Riot will continue to exist.

In the meantime, their main concern is setting up an organization to improve prison conditions in Russia. They are due to appear with Madonna in New York at a benefit for Amnesty International next week.

Alekhina said that while the band doesn't plan to perform punk live, that doesn't mean it will never try shock tactics again in other formats, including videos.

"Who said we exclude punk?" she said.

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