Pussy Riot trio jailed for two years each over hooliganism by Russian court

Friday 17 August 2012 23.53
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The three women have each been jailed for two years
The three women have each been jailed for two years
People in Berlin protest over the trial
People in Berlin protest over the trial

Three women from punk band Pussy Riot have been sentenced to two years in prison each after being found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred in Russia.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, had denied the charges.

Security was tight around the Moscow courthouse for the case, which has attracted international attention as an emblem of Russia's intolerance of dissent.

Prosecutors had requested a three-year jail sentence, down from the possible seven-year maximum.

The women have been in jail since March after the band put on a brief performance in Moscow's main cathedral.

It was viewed as a punk prayer entreating the Virgin Mary to protect Russia from Vladimir Putin, who at the time was on the verge of winning a new term as Russian president.

Mr Putin's opponents portray the trial as part of a wider crackdown by him to crush their protest movement.

"They are in jail because it is Putin's personal revenge," Alexei Navalny, one of the organisers of big protests against Mr Putin during the winter, told reporters outside the court.

"This verdict was written by Vladimir Putin."

Mr Putin's spokesman did not immediately answer calls following the verdict, but the president's allies said before the trial that the Kremlin would not have any influence on the outcome.

The Russian Orthodox Church also did not comment.

The judge said they had "committed an act of hooliganism, a gross violation of public order showing obvious disrespect for society." She rejected their argument that they had no intention of offending Russian Orthodox believers.

The trio's defence lawyers said they would appeal.

Many in Russia's mainly Orthodox Christian society backed the authorities' demands for severe punishment, though some have said the women deserved clemency.

Mr Putin, who returned to the presidency for a third term in May after a four-year spell as prime minister, has said the women did "nothing good" but should not be judged too harshly.

Witnesses say at least 24 people were detained by police in scuffles or for unfurling banners or donning ski masks in support of Pussy Riot outside the courtroom.

Among those detained were Sergei Udaltsov, a leftist opposition leader, and Garry Kasparov, the chess great and vehement Putin critic.

The crowd of about 2,000 people outside the court was dominated by Pussy Riot supporters but also included some nationalists and religious believers demanding a tough sentence.

Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and Samutsevich are educated, middle-class Russians who say their protest was not intended to offend believers.

Celebrities including Paul McCartney, Madonna and Bjork have called for the women to be freed.

The case comes in the wake of several recently passed laws cracking down on opposition.

One of the laws included one that raised the fine for taking part in an unauthorised demonstrations by 150 times to 300,000 rubles (about €7,200).

Another measure requires non-government organisations that both engage in vaguely defined political activity and receive funding from abroad to register as "foreign agents".

Keywords: pussy riot, russia