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Russia faces international condemnation over Pussy Riot

  • A Russian judge found three women from the punk band Pussy Riot guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred on Friday for staging an anti-Kremlin protest on the altar of Moscow's main Russian Orthodox church. The placard reads, "Freedom to Pussy Riot." REUTERS/Henry Romero

MOSCOW: Russia on Saturday faced a storm of international criticism for sentencing three members of Pussy Riot punk band to two years in prison for their protest in an Orthodox cathedral.

Speculation mounted that the women, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich, could have their sentences reduced on appeal after the damaging global reaction, with the Russian public also questioning the sentence.

Judge Marina Syrova said the three young protesters had shown a "clear disrespect toward society" by staging a "Punk Prayer" performance just weeks ahead of Vladimir Putin's election in March to a third term.

The United States called the sentences "disproportionate", while Britain, France and the European Union also said the punishment was excessive and questioned Russia's rights record.

Russian media and politicians raised the possibility of the women's sentence being reduced.

"There is a feeling that the Moscow city court, after the lawyers' appeal, will cut (the sentence) down to only one year, and after that they will release these foolish women back to their children and loved ones," Komsomolskaya Pravda daily said Saturday.

Leading ruling party member Andrei Isayev on Friday called the sentence "harsh" and noted that Putin had yet to speak his full mind on the matter.

Former presidential candidate and billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, writing on his blog late Friday, called the sentence a "strategic error that terribly damages the authority of the justice system."

Senior Church members also indicated they would prefer a lighter punishment.

"The whole verdict is based on a very shaky foundation: on the assertion that the punk group members feel hatred towards all Orthodox Christians and Orthodoxy as a whole," reformist priest Andrei Kurayev said Saturday on his blog.

A senior Orthodox Church council issued a formal statement Friday calling on the state "to show mercy for the convicted within the framework of the law."

Ordinary Russians also criticised the verdict.

A telephone poll by Moscow Echo liberal radio station early Saturday found 77 percent of listeners considered it "impossible to agree with the verdict."

Moscow police said early Saturday that more than 50 protesters detained outside the court Friday had all been released, some having been charged with non-criminal public order offences, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported.

 
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