Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 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)
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)
Police officers detain a supporter of Pussy Riot outside the court in Moscow (AP)
Feminist Russian punk group Pussy Riot members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, center, Maria Alekhina, right, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, are escorted to a glass cage at a court room in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Aug. 17, 2012. The three women in the band have been in jail for more than five months because of a prank they carried out in Moscow's main cathedral in a demonstration against Russia's Vladimir Putin, and they now face a maximum seven years in jail. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)
BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 17: Supporters of the Russian female punk band Pussy Riot holding effigies of toothed vaginas attack a fellow activist wearing an effigy of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a protest outside the Russian embassy on August 17, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. A Moscow court is scheduled to announce a verdict in the trial of the three musicians later today in a case that has attracted global attention over the issues of freedom of speech and artistic expression in modern Russia. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 17: A supporter of the Russian female punk band Pussy Riot protesting outside the Russian embassy looks dejected following the announcement of the Moscow court verdict on August 17, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. A Moscow court announced a guilty verdict in the trial of the three musicians in a case that has attracted global attention over the issues of freedom of speech and artistic expression in modern Russia. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 17: Supporters of the Russian female punk band Pussy Riot, including one holding a sign (L) in Russian that reads: "Pussy Riot - The Last Shame of Russia," protest outside the Russian embassy on August 17, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. A Moscow court is scheduled to announce a verdict in the trial of the three musicians later today in a case that has attracted global attention over the issues of freedom of speech and artistic expression in modern Russia. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 17: Renate Kuenast (L) of the German Greens Party and Markus Loening, German Federal Human Rights Commissioner, join supporters of the Russian female punk band Pussy Riot protesting outside the Russian embassy on August 17, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. A Moscow court is scheduled to announce a verdict in the trial of the three musicians later today in a case that has attracted global attention over the issues of freedom of speech and artistic expression in modern Russia. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 17: Supporters of the Russian female punk band Pussy Riot protest outside the Russian embassy on August 17, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. A Moscow court is scheduled to announce a verdict in the trial of the three musicians later today in a case that has attracted global attention over the issues of freedom of speech and artistic expression in modern Russia. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 17: Supporters of the Russian female punk band Pussy Riot, including one holding a sign (L) in Russian that reads: "Freedom for Tolokonnikova," protest outside the Russian embassy on August 17, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. A Moscow court is scheduled to announce a verdict in the trial of the three musicians later today in a case that has attracted global attention over the issues of freedom of speech and artistic expression in modern Russia. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is a member of the Pussy Riot trio. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 17: Supporters of the Russian female punk band Pussy Riot protest outside the Russian embassy on August 17, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. A Moscow court is scheduled to announce a verdict in the trial of the three musicians later today in a case that has attracted global attention over the issues of freedom of speech and artistic expression in modern Russia. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 17: Supporters of the Russian female punk band Pussy Riot protest outside the Russian embassy on August 17, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. A Moscow court is scheduled to announce a verdict in the trial of the three musicians later today in a case that has attracted global attention over the issues of freedom of speech and artistic expression in modern Russia. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 17: Supporters of the Russian female punk band Pussy Riot protest outside the Russian embassy on August 17, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. A Moscow court is scheduled to announce a verdict in the trial of the three musicians later today in a case that has attracted global attention over the issues of freedom of speech and artistic expression in modern Russia. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 17: Supporters of the Russian female punk band Pussy Riot protest outside the Russian embassy on August 17, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. A Moscow court is scheduled to announce a verdict in the trial of the three musicians later today in a case that has attracted global attention over the issues of freedom of speech and artistic expression in modern Russia. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 17: Supporters of the Russian female punk band Pussy Riot protest outside the Russian embassy on August 17, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. A Moscow court is scheduled to announce a verdict in the trial of the three musicians later today in a case that has attracted global attention over the issues of freedom of speech and artistic expression in modern Russia. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 17: Supporters of the Russian female punk band Pussy Riot protest outside the Russian embassy on August 17, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. A Moscow court is scheduled to announce a verdict in the trial of the three musicians later today in a case that has attracted global attention over the issues of freedom of speech and artistic expression in modern Russia. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
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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