Pussy Riot members found guilty, given two-year sentences – updated

Written by on August 17, 2012 in News, World - No comments

A Moscow court found three members of feminist punk band Pussy Riot guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” on August 17, handing two-year prison sentences to each of them.

The three women – Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich – were arrested in February after performing a punk prayer in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour cathedral, asking the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Vladimir Putin, then standing for a third term as the country’s president (which he won several weeks later).

Prosecutors had asked for a three-year term to be served in a penal colony. Supporters of Pussy Riot described the case as a show-trial in the worst tradition of the Soviet era.

The Pussy Riot members denied the charges, saying that they had no intention to offend any Orthodox believers, but instead protested against the close ties between Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church, which strongly endorsed Putin’s bid for a third term.

In the process, the four performers (the other participant remains in hiding), had “crudely undermined public order” and showed a “lack of respect for religion”, judge Marina Syrova said in her lengthy reading of the verdict.

The verdict summarised the case put by the defence and described in great detail the emotional pain that the performance caused witnesses, mainly employees of the church.

At the end of the reading, which went on for nearly three hours, Syrova handed out the verdict, which, she said, was based on the fact that the performance was carefully planned and they resisted attempts to interrupt the performance.

Two of the defendants have young children, which was an attenuating circumstance, but it was impossible to change the charges and shift them to something less grave, the judge said. The apology extended by the Pussy Riot to Orthodox believers was not taken into account, as it was an attempt to avoid retribution, Syrova said.

Outside the courthouse, Pussy Riot supporters gathered to protest against the trial, braving the threat of heavy fines under Russia’s new draconian laws on unsanctioned protests. Media reports and tweets from witnesses at the scene said that police arrested a number of protesters, including former world chess champion and opposition campaigner Garry Kasparov, an outspoken critic of Putin.

In recent weeks, a number of Western musicians voiced their support for Pussy Riot, ranging from Bjork to Madonna and Sir Paul McCartney. Protest rallies demanding the immediate release of Pussy Riot’s three members have been held in the US and across Europe.

In Bulgaria, on the morning of August 17, sculptures of Russian soldiers, part of the monument to the Soviet Army, had their heads covered by colourful balaclavas, much like those used by Pussy Riot during their performances. Later in the day, people wearing the same type of balaclavas protested in front of the Russian embassy in Sofia.

(Amnesty International poster in support of Pussy Riot.)

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Alex Bivol is the news editor of The Sofia Globe.