Pussy Riot jailed: Two years for Russian protest band

By
Pussy Riot band members on show
Pussy Riot band members on show

Three members of Russian punk group Pussy Riot have been jailed for two years after being found guilty of hooliganism over a protest in Moscow's Christ the Saviour cathedral.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, have been behind bars since singing provocative dissenting lyrics on the altar of one of Russia's holiest buildings in February.

Their two-year sentence is one year less than the three years sought by the prosecution, and will date from their initial arrest, but is still likely to spark outrage outside Russia.

Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said he was "deeply concerned" by the sentencing, which he said "can only be considered a disproportionate response to an expression of political belief".


He added: "We have repeatedly called on the Russian authorities to protect human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, and apply the rule of law in a non-discriminatory and proportionate way.

"Today's verdict calls into question Russia’s commitment to protect these fundamental rights and freedoms.”

The trio have claimed their imprisonment is a "clear and distinct sign that the whole country's freedom is being taken away".

But judge Marina Syrova said they were guilty of hooliganism because of the choice and timing of the venue and their resistance to attempts to eject them from the cathedral.

Two-thirds of Russians are Orthodox Christians and popular opinion inside Russia is thought to be broadly hostile to their protest movement.

Pussy Riot wore coloured balaclavas and short skirts during their brief concert inside the cathedral, where they called on the Virgin Mary to intercede to oust Vladimir Putin from power.

The two-year sentence may be viewed as proof that David Cameron secured a minor diplomatic victory, when he persuaded the Russian president to speak out in favour of a moderate judgement during the Olympic Games.

The British prime minister's talks with Putin appeared to have yielded fruit after the Russian leader said he did not think the trio "should be judged so harshly".

"There is nothing good in this," Putin said after watching his favourite sport judo at London 2012 with the PM.

"I hope the court will come out with the right decision, a well-founded one," he said.

Yesterday ex-Beatle Paul McCartney became the latest in a long list of western musicians to call for leniency against Pussy Riot. Madonna, Peaches, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Sting are also among those backing the band.

Police erected barriers blocking off the street outside the courthouse before proceedings began today, the Reuters news agency reported. Former chess champion Garry Kasparov, now a prominent dissident, was arrested outside the courthouse.

Syrova, who backs the prosecution in 90% of the cases she has heard, had been put under state protection after receiving threats from Pussy Riot supporters.

In a separate development, Moscow's top court confirmed it would continue its ban on gay pride marches for at least the next 100 years.

Comments

Load in comments