Ono awards peace prize to Pussy Riot
New York - John Lennon's widow Yoko Ono awarded a peace prize Friday to Russian band Pussy Riot at a ceremony attended by the husband and daughter of one of the jailed punk rockers.
“Pussy Riot stand firmly in their belief of freedom of expression,” Ono said at the event held in a New York hotel. “I want to work for their immediate release from the prision they are in now.”
Ono presented the biennial LennonOno Grant for Peace to Pyotr Verzilov, husband of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, one of the arrested band members.
“It's an incredible honor to receive this award from Yoko Ono,” he said. “It's incredible to see the people around the world go out and voice their support.”
Verzilov, an artist, traveled to New York with young daughter Gera.
Last month, a Moscow court sentenced Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina
Samutsevich and Maria Alyokhina to two years in a labor camp for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” after an impromptu performance in an Orthodox cathedral.
Video of the stunt, in which the band mocked President Vladimir Putin, went viral and the case quickly gained international prominence amid complaints that Russian government was cracking down on the freedom of expression.
Influential voices have called for the band members to be released, including rights group Amnesty International.
“Maria, Katia and Nadia have been declared Amnesty International prisoners of conscience. We are proud to stand with them,” Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said at the ceremony.
“We are not done yet. We won't be done until these women are free.”
On Thursday, Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, on a landmark visit to the United States, also called for the release of the women.
Friday's ceremony comes just days before a legal appeal by the women.
“October 1st will be a very important day because it will be the last chance for the Russian government to somehow change the sentence,” Verzilov said.
“After that, the girls, according to Russian law, will be sent to a penal colony somewhere in Russia.”
Other recipients of the peace award include Rachel Corrie, the American activist crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in Rafah in 2003, and the late writer Christopher Hitchens. - Sapa-AFP