Band member released

Yekaterina Samutsevich was unexpectedly freed Wednesday by a Moscow appeals court.

MOSCOW — One jailed member of the punk band Pussy Riot unexpectedly walked free from a Moscow courtroom, but the other two now head toward a harsh punishment for their irreverent protest against President Vladimir Putin: a penal colony.

The split ruling by the appeals court Wednesday added further controversy to a case that has been seized upon in the West as a symbol of Putin’s intensifying crackdown on dissent.

All three women were convicted in August of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two years in prison. They argued in court on Wednesday that their impromptu performance inside Moscow’s main cathedral in February was political in nature and not an attack on religion.

The Moscow City Court ruled that Yekaterina Samutsevich’s sentence should be suspended because she was thrown out of the cathedral by guards before she could remove her guitar from its case and thus did not take part in the performance. The two other defendants squealed with joy and hugged Samutsevich before she was led from the courtroom to be mobbed by friends and journalists waiting outside on the street.

Dressed in neon-colored dresses and tights, with homemade balaclavas on their heads, the band performed a “punk prayer” asking the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Putin as he headed into a March election that would hand him a third term.

“If we unintentionally offended any believers with our actions, we express our apologies,” said Samutsevich, who along with Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova spoke in court Wednesday from inside a glass cage.