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Russian Court Dismisses Two Pussy Riot Appeals, Frees Third Defendant

Two Of Three Pussy Riot Appeals Rejectedi
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October 10, 2012
A Russian appeals court has freed Yekaterina Samutsevich, a member of the Pussy Riot punk collective, on a suspended sentence. But the court rejected the appeals of the other two defendants, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, ruling that they must serve out their two-year sentences for a performance in a Moscow cathedral in February. (Reuters)

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A Russian appeals court has confirmed jail sentences for two members of the activist punk collective Pussy Riot but released the third defendant in a "hooliganism" case that has divided the Russian public and attracted criticism from abroad.

The panel of three judges ruled that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina should serve out their two-year sentences for a performance in a Moscow cathedral in February.

But Yekaterina Samutsevich, whose call for a new lawyer had delayed the hearing by more than a week, was freed on a suspended sentence.

The court said it was freeing Samutsevich because she was thrown out of Christ the Savior Cathedral by guards before she could take part in the performance.

Samutsevich's father, Stanislav Samutsevich, said he was "very, very happy" about his daughter's release but also "sorry" that Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina must remain in prison.

In August, all three were convicted on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two years in prison.

Defense lawyer Mark Feigin said he would appeal the decision regarding Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina "probably...in the next few days. There will be an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, where we have the right to appeal after the [Russian] appeals court, and also to an appropriate panel here at the Moscow City Court."

'Not Antichurch'

At the start of proceedings on October 10, the judges rejected a request by the defense team to dismiss the "expert analysis" at the heart of the case, which asserts that the defendants' actions were motivated by "religious hatred or hostility."

They and their lawyers argued that their actions were not antichurch but instead aimed at perceived links between the political and religious elite.

The defendants acknowledged that it might be their last opportunity to appear in public "for two years" and criticized the conduct of their trial and warned of its effect on Russia and the country's image abroad.

The two members of Pussy Riot whose sentences were upheld, Maria Alyokhina (back left) and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (back right) speak with a lawyer from a glass-walled cage in a court in Moscow on October 10.
The two members of Pussy Riot whose sentences were upheld, Maria Alyokhina (back left) and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (back right) speak with a lawyer from a glass-walled cage in a court in Moscow on October 10.

Security was stepped up ahead of the session, and Pussy Riot supporters and journalists were gathered outside the courtroom, listening to the proceedings via a live Internet broadcast from inside.

Sources inside the courtroom said participants could hear applause erupting from the crowd in front of the building at a number of points in the proceedings.

The expert opinion underpinning the hooliganism convictions was the result of three such reports commissioned by prosecutors, reportedly after the first two failed to find evidence to back up the charge that the women were targeting the Russian Orthodox Church in particular.

Political Targets

At the October 10 hearing, defense lawyers argued that the women committed no crime because there was no element of "religious hatred" behind their actions.

Defendant Alyokhina reiterated to the appeals judges that the expert opinion was incompetent and that their convictions risked discrediting the Russian legal system in the world's eyes.

Freed Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich (center) leaves the courtroom in Moscow on October 10.
Freed Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich (center) leaves the courtroom in Moscow on October 10.

Their performance, in a major Russian Orthodox landmark, mainly criticized Putin ahead of his reelection to the Russian presidency.

Alyokhina said she and the other members of Pussy Riot hadn't intended to attack Christians but rather to speak out against perceived relations between senior politicians and their religious counterparts.

"I call on all believers and all those identifying themselves as Christians to listen to us now," Alyokhina said. "We did not want to insult you, we never had that intention, we went to the cathedral in order to express our protest -- our desperate protest -- against the merging of the religious and political elites of our country."

Orthodox Church authorities have urged the women to publicly express "repentance and regret."

Defendant Tolokonnikova said it was "unacceptable for us to repent or admit guilt, to admit that we were motivated by religious hatred...because both from the religious and ethical points of view it is wrong to admit to something you have not done." 

She added that she was "ready to say I am sorry for unintentionally hurting other people's feelings."

Later, presiding Judge Larisa Polyakova cut off Tolokonnikova as she accused Putin of actions "leading to an increase in instability" and criticized the effect of his third presidential term on Russian society.

Praise And Penitence

The sentencing sparked an international outcry, with Western diplomats, human rights activists, and musicians calling the verdict an attack on freedom of expression.

Pussy Riot has been shortlisted by the European Parliament for the prestigious Sakharov Prize, an honor named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov that is given to people and organizations that have fought for human rights and freedom of thought.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev suggested last month that it was "unproductive" for the Pussy Riot trio to spend more time in jail.

But Putin said more recently that the Moscow court ruled correctly because "it is impermissible to undermine our moral foundations, moral values, to try to destroy the country."

With additional reporting by AP and the BBC
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
October 11, 2012 04:29
Putin said it all - undermind the MORAL FOUNDATION
Of "imperial adeulter" of Putin's and Kirill's expansions
And VALUES to kill me and my mother (she killed 7/7),
Because I preventing by my writings CIS annexations,
Is DESTROY THE RUSSIA - even if the real Heavens,
That Putin and Kirill do not believe - for my expression.

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