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International Condemnation Of Pussy Riot Verdict Pours In

  • RFE/RL

Condemnation has poured in from Western governments and from activists and rights groups around the world in response to a Moscow court's sentencing on August 17 of three members of the punk group Pussy Riot to two years in jail.

Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, who had staged a protest performance against President Vladimir Putin's rule in a Moscow Orthodox cathedral in February, were found guilty of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred."

For supporters and many international observers, the case has come to symbolize Russia's troubling record on freedom of expression and rule of law.

In a statement, EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton called the sentence "disproportionate" and "deeply troubling" and called on Moscow to review the jail sentences.

In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said: "The United States is disappointed by the verdict, including the disproportionate sentences that were granted. While we understand the group's behavior was offense to some, we have serious concerns about the way that these young women have been treated by the Russian judicial system."

Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE's representative on media freedom, said the sentence was part of a "dangerous tendency to curb freedom of expression."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle expressed concern that the sentence in the case could have far-reaching effects on Russia's beleaguered civil society.

"The verdict against the music band, the punk band Pussy Riot is one thing. It is very bad for the three young women and their families, but it goes much further than this," he said. "The civil society in Russia is damaged by this and is supposed to be intimidated. And that will certainly hinder the democratic process in Russia. And we are very concerned about this as a country with close economic ties to Russia."

Even as three of its members were sentenced, other members of Pussy Riot released a new single titled, "Putin Has Lit the Flames." The British daily "The Guardian" has produced a video of the song with a montage of Pussy Riot and their supporters.

Rallies Of Support

Protesters holding placards and wearing Pussy Riot's signature balaclavas rallied against the sentencing in a reported two dozen cities outside of Russia, including Barcelona, Berlin, Brussels, Copenhagen, London, Paris, Sofia, Sydney, Riga, and Tbilisi.

Most of the protests contained about a dozen to as many as 200 people.

In central Kyiv, a bare-chested female activist from the Femen movement cut down a cross to express solidarity with the punk rockers.

In Warsaw, about 100 people demonstrated in support of Pussy Riot. The rally came during a visit by the Russian Orthodox leader, Patriach Kirill, to the Polish capital. Pussy Riot has been critical of Kirill's endorsement of Putin.

In New York, a protest in front of the Russian Embassy moved to Times Square. Protester Ama Birch told RFE/RL, "I think [this is] a real blow to democracy and a real blow to freedom of speech and that actually pains me a great deal."

"I guess it's just a sign that people value their own freedom over the rights and freedoms of others -- and that's a real blow to the whole world. It's a world problem," she said.

In front of Moscow's embassy in Washington, a protest was organized by rights watchdog Amnesty International.

"Our message today is that it is absolutely outrageous that these women were charged and that they've been tried and now they're being found guilty for a peaceful performance of a political song," the group's U.S. chief of campaigns, Michelle Ringuette, told RFE/RL.

"So we're here to make sure that the eyes of the world stay on Russia right now as it's making its decision about the sentence. We think these women need to be released immediately without prejudice."

PHOTO GALLERY: Activists rally for Pussy Riot around the world:

Frank Gomez, a Washington resident who joined in the protest, told RFE/RL he was unfamiliar with Russian politics before the Pussy Riot case made headlines around the world.

"The collusion between church and state is really disquieting," he said. "The more light we can shine on it, the harder it is for Russia to quash free speech."

Based on reporting by Richard Solash in Washington and Courtney Brooks in New York with additional reporting by Reuters, Interfax, dpa, and AFP

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