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Russian punk band convict defiant after losing parole battle

A member of the female punk band "Pussy Riot", Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, looks out from a holding cell as she attends a court hearing to appea
A member of the female punk band "Pussy Riot", Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, looks out from a holding cell as she attends a court hearing to appea

By Maria Stromova

SARANSK, Russia (Reuters) - A jailed member of Russian female punk group Pussy Riot lost a court battle to be released but remained unrepentant over last year's protest against President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova watched from behind the black metal bars of a courtroom cage as a regional court on Friday upheld an earlier decision not to release her after nearly a year in prison so that she could look after her five-year-old daughter.

The ruling by the Supreme Court of the Mordovia region was the second blow in three days for Pussy Riot. Maria Alyokhina, the other band member serving a two-year sentence, had a similar attempt quashed in court on Wednesday.

"I will appeal my sentence to the last, including in the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation," Tolokonnikova said during Friday's hearing in the city of Saransk, about 500 km (312 miles) southeast of Moscow.

Dressed in black, with the words "No Pasaran" (Spanish for "They shall not pass") written in white across her chest, she refused to plead guilty even though it might have won her favor in court.

"I do not admit guilt and will not plead guilty. I have principles upon which I will stand," she said from the cage, often used for defendants or convicts in Russian courts.

Tolokonnikova, 23, and Alyokhina, 25, are being held in remote prison colonies following their conviction last August for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred over the protest in the Russian Orthodox Church of Christ the Saviour.

Their "punk prayer" against Putin's close ties with the Russian Orthodox Church, performed by five band members wearing brightly colored masks, tights and short dresses in February 2012, shocked many Orthodox believers.

But their conviction was seen by Putin critics as part of a wider clampdown on dissent since he began a third term as president just over a year ago. Last week a prominent opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, was sentenced to five years for theft but freed on bail pending an appeal.

Tolokonnikova's initial parole case was rejected in April after a judge found no evidence to suggest she had improved her behavior after receiving two prison reprimands.

Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, former Beatle Paul McCartney and Briton Adele were among more than 100 musicians to sign a letter calling for their release that was published by Amnesty International on Tuesday.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina are due for release next March. A third Pussy Riot member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was freed last October when a judge suspended her sentence on appeal.

(Writing by Timothy Heritage, editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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