Unappealing Verdict: Moscow Court Keeps Two Pussy Riot Members Behind Bars

An appeals court on Wednesday upheld the two-year prison sentence for two members of the punk band Pussy Riot, convicted for an anti-Putin protest inside a Moscow cathedral. A third band member was freed because church guards had prevented her from taking part in the protest.

Pussy Riot members at their Moscow appeals court hearing on Wednesday. Zoom
AFP

Pussy Riot members at their Moscow appeals court hearing on Wednesday.

A trio of members from the punk band Pussy Riot had been hoping for leniency on Wednesday from a Moscow appeals court. But only one of them got the desired result.

The Moscow City Court ruled to uphold two-year prison sentences for two of the band members for having staged a protest performance inside the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in central Moscow. However, the judges unexpectedly released a third, noting that she had not actually taken part in the February protest after having been prevented from doing so by cathedral guards.

"The punishment for an incomplete crime is much lighter than for a completed one," the lawyer of Yekaterina Samutsevich, the band member who was released, said according to the AP. "She did not participate in the actions the court found constituted hooliganism."

Samutsevich had been prevented from removing her guitar from its case and joining the protest, a performance of a "punk prayer" near the cathedral's altar, which beseeched the Virgin Mary to save the country from Putin. But the other two band members, Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, will have to serve two years in a penal colony in accordance with the sentence handed down in August following the late-July guilty verdict. Two other Pussy Riot members who were part of the cathedral protest succeeded in evading arrest and have since reportedly fled the country.

Global Attention

The trio were convicted of "hooliganism" motivated by religious hatred. But on Wednesday, they argued that their protest was in no way directed toward religion. "If we unintentionally offended any believers with our actions, we express our apologies," Samutsevich said in a statement during the hearing. She said their action was purely political in nature, protesting both Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church's support of Putin during his campaign for a third term as president.

"Putin is doing everything for the development of civil war in this country," Tolokonnikova said during the hearing before being silenced by a judge.

The case has generated global attention, with many Western governments having condemned the sentence for being too harsh. It has widely been interpreted as another sign that Russia under Putin is backing away from guaranteeing full democratic freedoms and cracking down on political dissent. Even Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev seems to agree, saying last month that the band members had already served enough time and should be released.

Putin, though, disagrees. In a Sunday television interview, he again threw his support behind the harsh sentences saying: "It is right that they were arrested and it was right that the court took this decision because you cannot undermine the fundamental morals and values to destroy the country."

'No Religious Hatred'

Indeed, his comments sparked anger in the courtroom on Wednesday when defense attorney Mark Feigin lashed out at what he sees as an unlawful political pressure on the court. "I want a ruling on President Putin on the inadmissibility of his meddling in a court decision," he said. "No official … is permitted to interfere with the court."

Still, one thing Putin cannot be accused of is being out of touch with his electorate. Even as people in Europe and the US find the band members' prison sentence disproportionate, most Russians agree with its severity. A September poll performed by the Levada Center, a respected research agency, found that only 14 percent of those surveyed believe that the two-year sentences were too severe. Some 35 percent believe the sentences to be adequate with another 34 percent believing they are too lenient.

Ahead of Wednesday's hearing, the Russian Orthodox Church had said it believed the court should show compassion should the band members repent. The answer, however, was a clear no. "It is painful for me to hear that I am speaking out against religion," Tolokonnikova said at the hearing. "I have no religious hatred and never have."

cgh -- with wire reports

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1. Pussy Persecution
WWWGJSNET 10/11/2012
Sad To See Such Religion-inspired Attacks On Freedom Of Expression. Where Is The Outrage From Western Democracies?
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