French rights envoy unable to visit 'courageous' Pussy Riot
France's human rights ambassador on Tuesday said he regretted not being able to meet with the jailed members of anti-Putin punk band Pussy Riot, calling them "courageous women".
"I came to learn about the fate of three courageous women, the Pussy Riot," Francois Zimeray, the French Ambassador-at-large for human rights, told journalists.
Zimeray, who arrived in Moscow Monday, said he requested to meet with Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, the three women sentenced last month to two years in prison for staging an anti-Putin punk performance in Russia's main cathedral this winter.
Putin, who was prime minister at the time, became president for a historic third time in May. Activists accuse Putin of having sacrificed rights in the pursuit of stability throughout his 12-year domination of Russia.
"I regret that I could not see them," said Zimeray.
"I wanted to share with them, through their lawyer, the sympathies and emotions felt by France," he said.
A diplomatic source told AFP that a request to visit the Pussy Riot convicts in jail was presented to the judge on the high-profile case, but no reply followed.
"Is prison really the appropriate response?" asked Zimeray, who met with Russia's foreign ministry as well as Pussy Riot's lawyers and rights activists. "In Europe we don't send people to jail for abusing the freedom of expression.
The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that it gave Zimeray a "full explanation" regarding the case, "calling on foreign partners to avoid politicised assessments and mentoring."
The young women, two of whom have young children, were found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred over their stunt, which they called a "punk prayer" titled "Virgin Mary, drive Putin out!"
© 2012 AFP