Russian court hears Pussy Riot appeal

October 1, 2012 8:19 am
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Members of the all-girl punk band Pussy Riot Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (R), Maria Alyokhina (L) and Yekaterina Samutsevich/ AFP
MOSCOW,Oct 1 – A Russian court on Monday hears the appeal of jailed female punks Pussy Riot who were sentenced to two years in a prison camp for performing an anti-Kremlin song in a cathedral, with supporters hoping at best for a slight easing of the verdict.

The cause of the three women, convicted in August but held in detention since March, has not only been taken up by opponents of President Vladimir Putin but also by world figures ranging from Aung Sang Suu Kyi to Madonna.

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

A call by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev for the trio to be given a suspended sentence and released as well as signs of mercy from the powerful Russian Orthodox Church had given rise to some hopes among their supporters.

But their lawyers emphasised that the most they were hoping for was a reduction of the sentence.

“We have practically no hope that the conviction will be changed. The maximum we can hope for is a reduction of the sentence by half a year,” one of their lawyers, Violetta Volkova, told AFP.

The three prisoners will be allowed to participate in the appeal hearing at Moscow city court, which begins at 0700 GMT and where on Monday morning police had already built up a heavy security presence.

As the court will not review the entire course of the case, it is possible it will give its verdict on the same day.

A senior Church spokesman said at the weekend said that if the women showed signs of repentance “then that should not be ignored and those who broke the law should have the chance to move ahead on the path of correction.”

“The (Russian Orthodox) Church sincerely wants those who profaned the holy place to repent as the Church is convinced that this will be good for their souls,” said the head of the synodal information department, Vladimir Legoida, quoted by Russian news agencies.

Medvedev, in a surprising intervention, on September 12 had said that while he was sickened by the case there was no reason to keep the three women in prison any longer.

Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, on February 21 climbed onto an area around the altar in the cathedral in central Moscow and performed a “Punk Prayer” with the title “Virgin Mary, Redeem Us of Putin”.

They were rapidly apprehended by church security guards but only arrested by police in March. Several other Pussy Riot members involved in the action remain at large, despite vows by the authorities to hunt them down.

The cathedral is a symbol of the resurgence of religion in post-Soviet Russia after its repression in the USSR and the case has divided the country.

For many in the Russian opposition, the action against Pussy Riot has become a symbol of the repression of civil society under Putin’s third Kremlin term, which began against the background of unprecedented protests.

Their plight has had a huge global echo — Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi called for their release “as soon as possible”, while Madonna said in Moscow this summer that “I pray for their freedom”.

While claiming he cannot influence the case, Putin has made no secret of his distaste for the group’s antics. He referred to their stunt as an “orgy” and has played up their links to a controversial art group.

Pussy Riot is affiliated to the activist art group Voina (War), one of whose leading members is Tolokonnikova’s husband Verzilov.

Putin this month indicated he had not forgotten Voina’s most notorious action in 2008, where several of its activists including Tolokonnikova and Verzilov had public sex in a Moscow biological museum to mock Putin’s protege Medvedev.

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