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Pussy Riot Members Found Guilty, Jailed For Two Years

  • RFE/RL

A court in Moscow has found the three members of the punk feminist performance-art group Pussy Riot guilty of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" after performing what they called a "punk prayer" at a landmark Moscow church in February and sentenced them to two years in prison.

Judge Marina Syrova said the three women -- Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevich -- had "carefully planned" their February 21 action inside the Christ the Savior Cathedral.

"It was confirmed during the court hearings that Tolokonnikova, Samutsevich, and Alyokhina carried out [an act of] hooliganism, or a gross violation of public order, which showed open disrespect for society and was motivated by religious hatred, hostility, and hatred toward a social group, and which was a premeditated conspiracy by a group of people," Syrova said.

The judge added that theie performance was a "clear, gross violation of the commonly accepted norms and rules of behavior, considering the content and the place. The defendants violated the commonly accepted norms and rules of behavior, which are the foundations of public order inside the Christ the Savior Cathedral."

Amnesty International immediately criticized the court's guilty verdict, with a spokesperson in London calling it "an attempt to silence the three young women," and a "bitter blow" to freedom of expression in Russia.

EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton called the sentence "disproportionate" and "deeply troubling," while the U.S. State Department called on Russia to review the decision. Germany called the sentencing "shattering."

Dunja Mijatovic, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's representative on media freedom, warned of a " trend in various countries where the authorities, social and religious groups, and courts are taking a more restrictive stance on content considered to be offensive, morally questionable, or dangerous for children. Most of the time it is a pretext for censoring content that is simply not mainstream and critical."

The women have denied intending to offend believers.

They argue their action inside Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral was a protest against the close ties between the church and state, and, in particular, support the Russian Orthodox Church's leader, Patriarch Kirill, gave President Vladimir Putin in his presidential election campaign this year.

The performance took place two weeks before Putin was elected to a new term as president.

Even as three of its members were sentenced, other members of Pussy Riot released a new single, "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.

Protests Outside Courtroom

Prosecutors had requested three-year sentences. The two-year sentences include the nearly six months served since the band members were arrested in March.

The three women were handcuffed in a glass cage in the courtroom as they listened to the judge reading the verdict for almost three hours.

As the sentence came, a man in the courtroom shouted "Shame!", while outside the courtroom Pussy Riot supporters chanted "Russia without Putin!" amid a heavy police presence.

Opposition leader Aleksei Navalny said, "this verdict was written by Vladimir Putin," who "openly punished people who pose absolutely no threat. It was simply awful to see those three young women sitting inside an armored cage, handcuffed, and guarded by a dozen special-purposes soldiers and dogs. It is completely absurd, but this is Russia now."

Police rounded up a few dozen protesters, including Sergei Udaltsov, the leader of Russia's opposition Left Front, and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, who is a leading opposition activist.

Udaltsov reportedly approached a barrier set up by police with the intention of entering the court building.

After a brief conversation with police, Udaltsov was taken into custody.

Udaltsov said he had an "invitation" from one of the lawyers representing the three Pussy Riot members to attend the pronouncement of the verdict.

An unknown number of other people were detained in addition to Udaltsov.

The band members' defense lawyer, Violetta Volkova, said earlier the trio would appeal any conviction.

International Condemnation

The case has sparked an international outcry.

Paul McCartney, Madonna, Bjork, Sting, and many other musicians have joined Western governments in criticizing the trial.

Mikhail Fedotov, the head of Putin's own human rights council, called the trial a "disgrace" on August 16.

The judge in the case is under protection after reportedly receiving threats.

PHOTO GALLERY: Protesters are detained outside the courtroom ahead of the verdict.


On a recent visit to London, Putin said the three accused should not be judged "harshly."

Speaking before the verdict, Moscow Carnegie Center analyst Masha Lipman expected no leniency for the three, despite Putin's apparent soft stance on the case.

"The decision, the ruling, is certainly not made in the courtroom. Like in any prominent political case in Russia, such rulings are made elsewhere," Lipman told Reuters.

Since his inauguration in May, Putin has signed laws raising fines for protesters, tightening control of the Internet, and imposing tougher rules on foreign-funded campaign and lobby groups.

Opinion polls suggest many Russians believe the three women -- who have been jailed since March -- should not face more time behind bars.

However, Vladimir Burmatov of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, said he believed the women should be punished for offending Orthodox believers.

"That was a conscious deed. They understood quite clearly where they were going and why. They had prepared for that, and those words about the mistake they made, they said them only when it was time to talk to the media, not earlier than that," Burmatov said.

"It was not a mistake for them; they were doing their work."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

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