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Putin suggests leniency for Pussy Riot punk band protesters

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, August 2, 2012 16:55 EDT
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Putin via AFP
 
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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday he did not favour a tough punishment in the trial of an all-girl punk band which performed a song against his rule in Moscow’s biggest church.

“There is nothing good in what they did,” news agencies quoted Putin as saying about the three Pussy Riot members. “Nevertheless, I do not think that they should be judged too severely for this.”

Putin’s first comments on a case that has split Russian opinion and drawn concern from both global music stars and Western states suggests a lenient ruling in the ongoing trial of the three 20-something part-time musicians.

The band — its members dressed in tight neon dresses and knitted balaclavas — in February performed a “punk prayer” in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral that included lyrics condemning the Church’s open support for the state.

Their one-minute song also called on the Virgin Mary to “chase Putin out” of power and ended when the seemingly stunned security personnel finally moved in.

The three arrested band members face up to seven years in prison if convicted of hooliganism.

Putin told reporters in London following talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron that he hoped that the Pussy Riot members “will draw their own conclusions” and learn from their mistakes.

The dominant Russian leader has developed a history of issuing carefully phrased comments about high-profile hearings that end up coinciding with the final verdict issued by the court.

He once noted that “a thief should be in prison” before a Moscow court controversially extended the jail stay of Yukos oil company founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2010.

Yet Putin stressed on Thursday that the court should have the final say in what happens to the three band members — already in pre-trial detention for five months — and that he had originally preferred not to talk about the case.

“It is the court that issues the final ruling,” said Putin.

The unusual controversy had originally pitted Russia’s increasingly powerful Russian Orthodox Church against a nascent protest movement that unexpectedly rose this winter against Putin’s impending return to a third Kremlin term.

Russia’s Patriarch Kirill has demanded the strictest possible punishment for a crime that he said directly challenged all the country’s believers.

He also led a mass prayer attended by more than 10,000 at the cathedral in April that was seen by many critics as an open show of his Kremlin-backed force.

But the case has also gained international momentum and in recent days turned into another human rights headache that hounded Putin during his first visit to London since 2005.

Cameron raised the issue with Putin during their meeting and a British protesters shouted out the band’s name and called for its members’ release as the two leader shook hands before the cameras on Downing Street.

Twelve prominent British musicians also called the case “preposterous” in a letter to the Times newspaper timed to coincide with Putin’s visit.

The US State Department for its part this week expressed concern about the “politically motivated prosecution of the Russian opposition and pressure on those who express dissenting views.”

Putin used characteristically colourful language on Thursday to defend the Russian state’s treatment of the three women up to this point.

“Say that these young women were in Israel and desecrated something there. You probably all know that they have some tough guys there,” said Putin.

“They (the Pussy Riot members) would have probably never had a chance to even leave” the country.

Putin drew the same parallel with Russia’s volatile North Caucasus.

“If they desecrated some Muslim shrine — we would not have even had the time to take them into custody,” Putin said, referring to mob justice.

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
AFP journalists cover wars, conflicts, politics, science, health, the environment, technology, fashion, entertainment, the offbeat, sports and a whole lot more in text, photographs, video, graphics and online.
 
 
 
 
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