Pussy Riot trio given 2-year prison sentence
BY NATALIYA VASILYEVA Associated Press
Saturday, August 18, 2012
8/18/12 at 5:28 AM
A Moscow judge sentenced three members of the provocative punk band Pussy Riot to two years in prison on hooliganism charges on Friday following a trial seen around the world as an emblem of Russia's intolerance of dissent.
The trial inspired a wave of small but raucous protests across Europe and North America in support of the feminist rockers, who have been dubbed prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International. Hundreds of Pussy Riot supporters waiting outside the Moscow courtroom chanted "down with the police state" when the sentence was announced. Dozens were detained, including several opposition leaders.
The three women were arrested in March after a guerrilla performance in Moscow's main cathedral where they high-kicked and danced while singing a "punk prayer" pleading with the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Vladimir Putin, who was elected to a third term as Russia's president two weeks later.
Judge Marina Syrova said in her verdict that the band members "committed hooliganism driven by religious hatred." She rejected the women's arguments that they were protesting the Orthodox Church's support for Putin and didn't intend to offend religious believers.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alekhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, stood in handcuffs in a glass cage in the courtroom for three hours as the judge read the verdict. They smiled sadly as the judge recounted testimony of prosecution witnesses accusing them of sacrilege and "devilish dances" in church and said that their feminist views made them hate the Orthodox religion.
Tolokonnikova laughed out loud when the judge read the testimony of a psychologist who said that her "active stance on social issues" was an anomaly.
The three women remained calm and kept smiling after the judge announced the sentence. Someone in the courtroom shouted "Shame!" They waved at relatives from behind the glass.
Samutsevich's father said he met with his daughter before the court session and she was prepared for a prison sentence. "We tried to comfort her," said Stanislav Samutsevich.
Putin himself had said the band members shouldn't be judged too harshly, creating expectations that they could be sentenced to time served and freed in the courtroom. This, however, would have left the impression that Putin had bowed to public pressure, something he has resisted throughout his 12 years in power.
"Putin has doomed himself to another year and a half of international shame and humiliation," said Boris Akunin, one of Russia's most popular authors, who was among the Pussy Riot supporters outside the courthouse. "The whole thing is bad because it's yet another step toward the escalation of tensions within society. And the government is absolutely to blame."
Outside the court, police rounded up a few dozen protesters, including former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, who is a leading opposition activist, and leftist opposition group leader Sergei Udaltsov.
Amnesty International strongly condemned the court's ruling, saying it "shows that the Russian authorities will stop at no end to suppress dissent and stifle civil society." Governments including the United States, Britain, France and Germany denounced the sentences as disproportionate.
The case has underlined the vast influence of the Russian Orthodox Church. Some Orthodox groups and many believers had urged strong punishment for an action they consider blasphemous.
Original Print Headline: Punk trio ordered to prison
Punk group Pussy Riot members Yekaterina Samutsevich (left), Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass cage at a courtroom in Moscow on Friday. Security was tight around the courthouse where the three members of the feminist punk band awaited the verdict Friday in a trial that resulted in a two-year prison sentence. MISHA JAPARIDZE/Associated Press