Anger at severity of sentences handed out to protest band ‘Pussy Riot’

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By Bob Duncan

Three members of “Pussy Riot”, a Russian female punk rock band, have been sentenced to two years in a prison colony after they were found guilty of hooliganism after performing a song critical of President Vladimir Putin in a church, in a ruling described by supporters as his “personal revenge”.
 
In handing down the sentences, Judge Marina Sirovaya said the three women had “committed an act of hooliganism, a gross violation of public order showing obvious disrespect for society,” adding that the five months they have spent in detention since their arrests in March will count toward time served.

The judge told the court: “The girls’ actions were sacrilegious, blasphemous and broke the church’s rules,” as she spent three hours reading the verdict while the women stood watching in handcuffs inside a glass courtroom cage.

She declared all three guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, saying they had deliberately offended Russian Orthodox believers by storming the altar of Moscow’s main cathedral.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Marina Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, giggled as the judge read out the sentences, but portrayed themselves as victims of Soviet-style persecution during the trial which began on July 30.

The group’s supporters burst into chants of “Shame” outside the Moscow courthouse and said the case showed Putin was cracking down on dissent in his new six-year term as president. Dozens were detained by police when scuffles broke out.

A police source said 50 people had been detained near the court when scuffles broke out.  Among them were Sergei Udaltsov, a leftist opposition leader, and Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion and an outspoken Putin critic but there was no sign of the opposition taking to the streets in anger.

Pussy Riot took on two powerful state institutions at once when they burst into Moscow’s golden-domed ‘Christ the Saviour Cathedral’ wearing bright ski masks, tights and short skirts to protest against Putin’s close ties with the Church.

“They are in jail because it is Putin’s personal revenge,” Alexei Navalny, one of the organisers of the protests, said outside the court. “This verdict was written by Vladimir Putin.”

The US and EU both condemned the sentence as disproportionate and asked for it to be reviewed, although state prosecutors had demanded a three-year jail term and the longest possible sentence was seven years.

Pussy Riot have never made a record nor had a hit song, but foreign singers have led the campaign for the trio’s release.  Madonna recently performed in Moscow with “PUSSY RIOT” painted on her back and wearing a ski mask in solidarity with the band.

But a recent poll of Russians showed only 6 percent sympathised with the women and 51 percent found nothing good about them or felt irritation or hostility.  The rest would not say or were indifferent.

Valentina Ivanova, a retired doctor, said outside the courtroom: “What they did showed disrespect towards everything, and towards believers first of all.”

Putin, who was elected to the presidency for a third term on May 7 after a four-year spell as prime minister, had said the women did “nothing good” but should not be judged too harshly.