Pussy Riot Jailed for Two Years: Vladimir Putin Faces International Outcry

Russia’s president Vladimir Putin faced international condemnation as three young women from the opposition group Pussy Riot were jailed for two years for performing a 40-second “punk prayer” protesting the Russian president.

(From left to right) Russian feminist punk-rock band Pussy Riot Yekaterina Samutsevic, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. Photo: Evgeniya Zubchenko/Flickr

Three young women from punk band called Pussy Riot who staged an anti-Putin stunt in Moscow’s main Orthodox cathedral, and whose jailing became a cause célèbre championed by artists around the world, were convicted of hooliganism on Friday and sentenced to two years in a penal colony.

The band’s backers burst into chants of “Shame” outside the Moscow courthouse and said the case showed Putin was cracking down on dissent in his new six-year term as president. Dozens were detained by police when scuffles broke out.

“The girls’ actions were sacrilegious, blasphemous and broke the church’s rules,” Judge Marina Syrova told the court as she spent three hours reading the verdict while the women stood watching in handcuffs inside a glass courtroom cage, according to Reuters.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Marina Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, giggled as the judge read out the sentences one by on.

As word of the sentences spread, a crowd of protesters outside the courthouse howled angrily, and then seemed to fall into a stunned silence.

According to The New York Times, while the courtroom emptied, the three women were left in their glass enclosure, nicknamed the aquarium, and photographers were allowed to take pictures. As she was finally led away, the most outspoken of the three, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, said, “We are happy because we brought the revolution closer!” A police officer snapped back, “Well done.”

The case began in February when the women infiltrated the Cathedral of Christ the Savior wearing colorful balaclavas, and pranced around in front of the golden Holy Doors leading to the altar, dancing, chanting and lip-syncing for what would later become a music videoof a profane song in which they beseeched the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Mr. Putin.

The judge said the three women 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.

International celebrities including Sir Paul McCartney and Madonna had already criticised the prosecution, writes The Telegraph. They were followed by demonstrations and gatherings in support of the women in at least 40 cities worldwide on Friday, including New York, London and Paris.

Alistair Burt, UK foreign minister, said the sentence was a “disproportionate response to an expression of political belief”, while Baroness Ashton, the EU foreign affairs chief, said she was “deeply disappointed” with the verdict.

Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, said: “The United States is disappointed by the verdict, including the disproportionate sentences that were granted.”

Amnesty International condemned the sentences, which a spokeswoman said showed “that the Russian authorities will stop at no end to suppress dissent and stifle civil society.”

At the same time, a poll of Russians released by the independent Levada research group showed only 6 percent sympathized with the women and 51 percent found nothing good about them or felt irritation or hostility. The rest could not say or were indifferent.

But while the women became minor celebrities, Pussy Riot is far more political than musical: Its members have never commercially released a song or an album, and they do not seem to have any serious aspirations to do so.

Putin, who returned to the presidency for a third term on May 7 after a four-year spell as prime minister, had said the women did “nothing good” but should not be judged too harshly.

The Church issued a statement condemning the women’s actions but urged the state to show mercy “within the framework of the law”.

In Moscow, around 2,000 people gathered near the court, the large majority being Pussy Riot supporters, with lesser numbers of nationalist and Christian Orthodox activists opposing the group.

Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and leading opposition activist Sergei Udaltsov were among several dozen people arrested by riot police, who erected a cordon on streets surrounding the building.

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