A judge in Moscow has sentenced three members of an all-girl Russian punk band to two years in prison each on charges of hooliganism, USA Today reports. The case against the band Pussy Riot has drawn international criticism and focused attention on what many observers see as suppression of artistic freedom by Russia.
In Moscow, hundreds of supporters of the band gathered amid heavy police presence outside the courthouse, chanting “Russia without Putin!,” the report notes. A number of leaders of the protest were reportedly detained.
The band members, described as feminist rockers, have been labeled prisoners of conscience by global rights groups, the story reports.
The report notes: “The three were arrested in March after a guerrilla performance in Moscow’s main cathedral, high-kicking and dancing while singing a "punk prayer" pleading [with] the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Vladimir Putin, who was elected to a third new term as Russia’s president two weeks later.
“Judge Marina Syrova said in her verdict that the three band members ‘committed hooliganism driven by religious hatred’ and offended religious believers. She rejected the women’s arguments that they were protesting the Orthodox Church’s support for Putin and didn’t want to hurt the feelings of believers.”
The band members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, “stood in handcuffs in a glass cage in the courtroom for three hours as the judge read the verdict,” the story reports. “They smiled sadly at the testimony of prosecution witnesses accusing them of sacrilege and ‘devilish dances’ in church.”
Prosecutors had asked for a three-year sentence, although the charges carried a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.
The report adds: “Putin himself had said the band members shouldn’t be judged too harshly, drawing expectations that the band members could be sentenced to the time they already have spent in custody and freed in courtroom. Skeptics had warned, however, that a mild sentence would look as if Putin was bowing to public pressure — something he has clearly resented throughout his 12-year rule.”
Media figures including Paul McCartney, Madonna and Bjork have voiced support for the band members and urged that they be freed.
Among those rounded up by police outside the courtroom was Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion, an activist in the opposition movement.
“Amnesty International strongly condemned the court’s ruling, calling it a ‘bitter blow’ for freedom of expression in Russia,” the report notes.