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Faint hopes as Moscow court hears Pussy Riot appeal

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, September 30, 2012 18:21 EDT
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The Moscow city court on Monday hears the appeal of jailed punk rockers Pussy Riot against their two-year prison camp sentence for performing an anti-Kremlin song in a cathedral, with supporters hoping at best for a slight softening of the sentence.

The cause of the three women, convicted in August but held in detention since March, has not only been taken up by opponents of President Vladimir Putin but also by luminaries ranging from Aung Sang Suu Kyi to Madonna.

The trio, two of whom are young mothers, were found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for storming into the Moscow Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and staging a balaclava-clad performance.

“We have practically no hope that the conviction will be changed. The maximum we can hope for is a reduction of the sentence by half a year,” one of their lawyers Violetta Volkova told AFP.

“The only legal verdict would be an acquittal. But we cannot count on the legal authorities,” she added.

Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, on February 21 climbed onto to an area around the altar in the Cathedral and performed a “Punk Prayer” with the title “Virgin Mary, Redeem Us of Putin”.

They were rapidly apprehended by church security guards but only arrested by the police in March. Several other Pussy Riot members involved in the action remain at large, despite periodic vows by the authorities to hunt them down.

The Cathedral is a symbol of the resurgence of religion in post-Soviet Russia after its repression in the USSR and the case has divided the country, where the Orthodox Church is now hugely powerful.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, in a surprising intervention, on September 12 said that while he was sickened by the case there was no reason to keep the three women in prison any longer.

Tolokonnikova’s husband Pyotr Verzilov said that while a reduction in the prison camp sentence of three-six months was possible, Medvedev’s comments had little meaning.

“The only thing that Medvedev can influence is games on his iPad,” Verzilov told AFP.

It is not clear if the three prisoners will appear at the appeal hearing, which begins at 0700 GMT. As the court will not review the entire course of the case, it is possible it will give its verdict on the same day.

For many in the Russian opposition, the persecution of Pussy Riot has become a symbol of the repression of civil society in Russia under Putin’s third Kremlin term, which began against the background of unprecedented protests.

Their plight has had a huge global echo — Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi called for their release “as soon as possible”, while Madonna said in Moscow this summer that “I pray for their freedom”.

Along with a top Iranian filmmaker, Rwandan dissidents and a jailed Belarussian activist, they have also been nominated for European Parliament’s prestigious rights prize named after the Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.

With the case testing already tense ties with the West, Russia called the nomination a “crude attempt” to interfere in the country’s affairs.

While claiming he cannot influence the case, Putin has made no secret of his distaste for the group’s antics. He referred to their stunt as an “orgy”, playing up their links to a controversial art group.

Pussy Riot is closely affiliated to the activist art group Voina (War), one of whose leading members is Tolokonnikova’s husband Verzilov. Its past actions have ranged from painting a penis on a lifting bridge opposite the security headquarters in Saint Petersburg to staging mock hangings of immigrants.

Putin this month showed he had not forgotten Voina’s most notorious action, where several of its activists including Tolokonnikova and Verzilov had public sex in a Moscow biological museum to mock Putin’s protege Medvedev.

“They had a group sex session in a public place. They then uploaded it onto the Internet. The authorities should have looked into this,” Putin told Russia Today television on September 6.

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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