MOSCOW — One of two women from the punk group Pussy Riot serving two-year prison terms for staging a protest performance against President Vladimir V. Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral was released on Monday under a new amnesty law.
The case of Maria Alyokhina, who was set free from a prison in Nizhny Novgorod on Monday morning, and her co-defendant, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, drew international condemnation of Russia’s human rights record, with critics saying their prosecution and relatively stiff sentences represented a brutal repression of free speech.
Ms. Tolokonnikova, who has complained of headaches and harsh conditions in prison, and whose travails in the penal system have been followed intensely by the Russian press, is expected to be released within days. At one point this fall, she dropped out of communication for three weeks, prompting fears for her health. The penitentiary service later issued a statement saying she had been moved to a new prison in Krasnoyarsk.
Ms. Alyokhina and Ms. Tolokonnikova each have young children.
The two women were convicted, along with a third woman, Yekaterina Samutsevich, whose sentence was later overturned on appeal, of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. The women had insisted repeatedly that they were motivated not by antireligious sentiment but by opposition to Mr. Putin and to Russia’s political system.
They said they had chosen the church, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, for their “punk prayer” to criticize the political support for Mr. Putin and the Kremlin shown by the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill 1.
The Russian Parliament, at Mr. Putin’s direction, passed a sweeping amnesty law last week that is expected to bring the release of a number of high-profile defendants and prisoners, including the Greenpeace activists recently arrested while protesting oil exploration in the Arctic.
The amnesty law offered only limited relief for the members of Pussy Riot. They had been jailed since March 2012 and would have been released within the next three months.
Others who stand to benefit from the law include defendants accused of crimes in connection with an antigovernment protest that turned violent after Mr. Putin’s re-election as president.
On Thursday, hours after the adoption of the amnesty law, Mr. Putin said that he would also grant clemency to Russia’s most famous prisoner, Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, the former Yukos oil tycoon. Mr. Khodorkovsky was released from a penal colony in northern Russia later that night and flown to Berlin, where he held a news conference on Sunday.
While Mr. Putin has described the amnesty law and Mr. Khodorkovsky’s pardon as efforts to make the Russian criminal justice system more humane, it has also underscored his singular authority in this country and, to critics, the very arbitrariness of the Russian legal process that rights groups have long denounced.
The members of Pussy Riot, Mr. Khodorkovsky and the Greenpeace activists had all become international symbols for critics of the Russian system, and could well have been the subject of protests and demonstrations during the Winter Olympics, which will be held in the southern Russian city of Sochi in February.
It has not been clear, however, whether Mr. Putin was motivated by the Olympics or some other factors. About to enter his 15th year as Russia’s pre-eminent political leader, he seems increasingly confident and in control, though he may soon face serious challenges as a result of the country’s slowing economy.