The ruling could potentially lead to shorter sentences for
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina or even to a reversal
of their convictions, although the latter is far less likely.
Tolokonnikova, 24, and Alyokhina, 25, were convicted of
hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for performing a crude
"punk prayer" in a Russian Orthodox cathedral in protest at
President Vladimir Putin and his ties with the church.
Both are due for release in early March and could be freed
earlier under an amnesty parliament plans to approve this month,
but a major change in the verdict or sentence would embarrass
Putin and his government.
It would reinforce critics' accusations that the women were
railroaded into prison as part of a clampdown on dissent.
Putin has rejected criticism from Western governments that have
called the sentences disproportionate, suggesting last year that
the women had threatened the "moral foundations" of Russia and
got what they deserved.
The Supreme Court, in an order posted on its website on Thursday
and dated December 10, said the trial court did not provide
evidence of a portion of the verdict that says they were
motivated by "hatred of a certain social group".
It also said potentially mitigating circumstances were not taken
into account when they were sentenced, including their youth,
the fact that both have young children, and calls for leniency
from people considered victims in the case.
An appeals court upheld the verdict and sentences against
Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina in October 2012 and suspended the
sentence of a third woman convicted at the same trial,
Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina could be freed before their
sentences expire in March because Putin has submitted an amnesty
proposal to parliament that would release many inmates convicted
of hooliganism and also many who are mothers of young children.
(Editing by Alison Williams)
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