Pussy Riot protester alone in cell after inmate tension

MOSCOW Fri Nov 23, 2012 10:36pm IST

Members of the female punk band ''Pussy Riot'' (L-R) Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass-walled cage before a court hearing in Moscow October 10, 2012. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Members of the female punk band ''Pussy Riot'' (L-R) Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass-walled cage before a court hearing in Moscow October 10, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Jailed Pussy Riot punk protester Maria Alyokhina has been moved to a single-person cell for her own protection because of tension with other prisoners, her lawyer and Russia's federal penitentiary service said on Friday.

Alyokhina, 24, is serving a two-year sentence for a raucous protest against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main Russian Orthodox cathedral. Activists said her trial, and that of two band mates, was part of a crackdown on dissent.

"There was a conflict" between Alyokhina and other inmates and "she was tansferred to a individual cell," her lawyer Irina Khrunova said by telephone. She said it was not yet clear what caused the conflict.

Prison authorities said Alyokhina was moved at her own request.

"Some tensions arose in relationships and, apparently to prevent this situation from escalating, she decided to submit a request to the prison leadership and they moved her to a one-person cell," a federal prison service spokeswoman said.

The spokeswoman dismissed Russian media reports Alyokhina argued with inmates over religion at the Ural Mountains prison about 1,150 km (715 miles) northeast of Moscow. Pussy Riot's protest offended many members of Russia's Orthodox Church.

The spokeswoman also said she had no information regarding a report on the tabloid-style Life News website that Alyokhina had received violent threats from cell mates.

Alyokhina's main meal is taken to her cell and she is accompanied by a guard when she leaves it, the spokeswoman said.

Alyokhina and two band mates were convicted in August of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for their "punk prayer", which the dominant Russian Orthodox Church has cast as part of a concerted attack on the church and the faithful.

The women said the protest, in which they burst into Christ the Saviour Cathedral and called on the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin, was not motivated by hatred and was meant to mock the church leadership's support for the longtime leader.

Putin, a former KGB officer who has cultivated close ties with the church over 13 years in power, has rejected criticism from the United States and European leaders who called the two-year sentences disproportionate.

Alyokhina, who has a young son, argued with the judge and cross-examined witnesses during her trial.

Her band mate Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, is serving her sentence in a different prison. Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, was freed last month when a court suspended her sentence on appeal. (Additional reporting by Ludmila Danilova and Steve Gutterman; Writing by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya; editing by Jason Webb)

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