Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Pussy Riot jailed for two years

Feminist punk group Pussy Riot members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, right, Maria Alekhina, center, and Yekaterina Samutsevich sit in a glass cage at a court room in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Aug. 17, 2012. Security is tight around a Moscow courthouse where three members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot are to hear the verdict Friday in a trial that could send them to prison for seven years. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)
Pussy Riot members (from left) Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (AP)
A man walks past a slogan on a wall reading: 'Free Pussy Riot' in the district Kreuzberg iof Berlin, Friday, Aug. 17, 2012

Three members of the provocative punk band Pussy Riot have been sentenced to two years in prison each on hooliganism charges following a trial that has drawn international outrage as an emblem of Russia's intolerance of dissent.

The Moscow trial sparked a wave of protests around the world in support of the feminist rockers, who have been dubbed prisoners of conscience by international rights group. Hundreds of Pussy Riot supporters chanted "Russia without Putin!" amid a heavy police presence outside the courtroom, and several opposition leaders were detained.

The three were arrested in March after an unauthorised performance in Moscow's main cathedral, high-kicking and dancing while singing a "punk prayer" pleading the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Vladimir Putin, who was elected to a third new term as Russia's president two weeks later.

Judge Marina Syrova said in her verdict that the three band members "committed hooliganism driven by religious hatred" and offended religious believers. She rejected the women's arguments that they were protesting at the Orthodox Church's support for Mr Putin and did not want to hurt the feelings of believers.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich stood in handcuffs in a glass cage in the courtroom for three hours as the judge read the verdict. They smiled sadly at the testimony of prosecution witnesses accusing them of sacrilege and "devilish dances" in church. The three women remained calm after the judge announced the sentence. Someone in the courtroom shouted "Shame!" The charges carried the maximum penalty of seven years in prison, although prosecutors had asked for a three-year sentence.

Mr Putin himself had said the band members should not be judged too harshly, drawing expectations that the band members could be sentenced to the time they already have spent in custody and freed in courtroom. Sceptics had warned, however, that a mild sentence would look as if he was bowing to public pressure - something he has clearly resented throughout his 12-year rule.

On the street outside, the courtroom, police rounded up a few dozen protesters, including former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, who is a leading opposition activist, and leftist opposition group leader Sergei Udaltsov. Amnesty International strongly condemned the court's ruling, calling it a "bitter blow" for freedom of expression in Russia.

The Pussy Riot case has underlined the vast influence of the Russian Orthodox Church. Although church and state are formally separate, the church identifies itself as the heart of Russian national identity and critics say its strength effectively makes it a quasi-state entity.

Celebrities including Paul McCartney, Madonna and Bjork have called for the band members to be freed, and other protests timed to just before the verdict or soon afterward were being. In the Russian capital activists put the band's trademark ski masks, or balaclavas, on several statues across town.

Small, but raucous protests were held in a few dozen cities. A few dozen people came out in Barcelona, Spain, a couple hundred in Paris, and a handful in Washington.

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