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Members of Pussy Riot tell Congress about Russia's human rights abuses

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May 6, 2014: Russian political activists Nadya Tolokonnikova, center, and Maria Alyokhina, center left, of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, join Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., far right, the chairman of the Helsinki Commission, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., far left, and Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., second from left, in seeking action to stop violations of human rights by pro-Russian militants in the Ukraine region. (ap)

Two members of the Russian dissident punk group Pussy Riot came to the Capitol Tuesday and asked members of Congress to add 16 officials to the list of Russian human rights violators who face U.S. sanctions.

Before a throng of cameras and reporters, the women — Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina — said Russian President Vladimir Putin's crackdown on human rights was damaging that country.

"Putin is not leading Russia to stability, but to complete instability and chaos," Tolokonnikova said through a translator.

The pair was arrested in 2012 after an obscenity-laced performance criticizing Putin at Moscow's main cathedral. They spent nearly two years in prison, but since their release have continued decrying the lack of freedom in Russia and harsh government tactics against opponents.

The women said Russia has resumed abusing prisoners, including using mandatory psychiatric treatment for some. They said they hoped public pressure would force the mistreatment to stop.

"Silence is the most dangerous thing for a political prisoner," said Tolokonnikova.

By law, the United States can freeze assets and ban travel to the U.S. of Russians deemed to be human rights abusers. Currently, 18 Russians are on a public list of people facing such sanctions while an unknown number of others are on a confidential list.

The 16 people the women want sanctioned include Vladimir Kolokoltsev, Russia's interior minister. Also on the list were officials involved in prosecuting and trying people who participated in a large Moscow rally in May 2012 and officials at the prisons where Tolokonnikova and Alekhina were incarcerated.

The two met for a half hour with lawmakers, who later lauded them as heroes. The group included Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., who chairs the U.S. Helsinki Commission, a federal panel that monitors human rights in dozens of countries.

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