Pussy Riot appeal opens in Moscow

October 10, 2012 7:39 am
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The trio are appealing days after Putin said jailing them was the “right decision”/AFP
MOSCOW, Oct 10 – A Russian court on Wednesday opened a hearing into the appeal of three members of punk band Pussy Riot who were sentenced to two years in prison camp for performing an anti-Kremlin song in a cathedral.

Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, were all present in the glass-fronted defendants’ cage as the hearing began in the packed Moscow city court.

They are seeking to contest their conviction days after President Vladimir Putin appeared to give his blessing to the verdict.saying on national television that jailing them was the “right decision”.

The trio, two of whom are young mothers, were found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for storming into the Moscow Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in February and staging a balaclava-clad performance.

Calls for their freedom have been taken up by some of the world’s most famous figures, from Madonna to Yoko Ono, and Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi last month called for their immediate release.

The first appeal hearing on October 1 was unexpectedly adjourned when Samutsevich announced she was firing her lawyer and said she did not agree with the defence team’s view of the case.

The women’s lawyers, who have worked as a tight-knit team, said Samutsevich is under pressure from friends and expressed concern that she may break the unity of the group by pleading guilty in hopes of a shorter sentence.

In a special film made by state-owned NTV and aired on Putin’s 60th birthday Sunday, the Russian leader laughed when the interviewer asks him about Pussy Riot, calling the band “talented” for making everyone repeat its “indecent” name.

Pressed to comment on the court’s decision to jail the three women, Putin said: “It was right to arrest them and it was right that the court took the decision that it did.

He added that the band’s anti-Putin song “Virgin Mary, redeem us of Putin!” was added to the viral video of their performance to divert attention from the actual stunt in the church to politics and make Pussy Riot famous.

“I didn’t have anything to do with it,” Putin said about the women’s sentence. “They wanted it and they got it.”

But Tolokonnikova’s lawyer Mark Feigin said Putin’s remarks displayed extensive knowledge of the case documents, which only proved his personal involvement.

“He is clearly interested, involved, and regularly informed on the case,” he said. “He demonstrated what he thinks about the court judgement without waiting for the appeal to decide whether or not it was fair.”

“This is direct pressure on the court,” he told AFP. “In an authoritarian system, even if the judges don’t receive direct orders, they will take his opinion into account.”

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