03/12/2012, 00.00
RUSSIA
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Anti-Putin punk band divides Orthodox community

by Nina Achmatova
Pussy Riot improvised an irreverent performance inside the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Now face up to 7 years in prison, after the head of the Patriarchate had called for severe punishment. Some of the faithful call for their release.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The case of anti-Putin punk-feminist group, Pussy Riot, - arrested for a desecrating performance staged at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow in February - is dividing the Christian community in Russia. Accused of bullying, insulting religion, inciting hatred and violation of public order, two of the girls, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, were arrested after high-ranking Russian Orthodox Church officials demanded an exemplary punishment against their "Punk Prayer" performance in which they invoked the intercession of the Virgin" to free Russia from Putin. " The two artists are on a hunger strike against what they call their "illegal incarceration": both are mothers of young children and then they are entitled at least to the house arrest. Their lawyers have appealed, but now the young women face up to seven years in prison.

The case is the subject of heated debate in the media, as in the Orthodox community, and has also been embraced by the anti-Putin opposition. A group, while condemning the act, has launched an appeal to the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill, inviting him to have a "Christian attitude" and to "abandon the persecution of the artists." The appeal was signed by at least two thousand people, including some Catholics, as reported by Interfax. Even the blogger Alexei Navalny - Christian, but non-practicing - has denounced their detention, as a "senseless cruelty."

It is reported that the spokesman for the Patriarchate, Vsevolod Chaplin, is behind the demands for  a "severe" sentence for Pussy Riot.  He however, continues to deny any pressure from the Russian Church on the political and judicial authorities and instead calls on the faithful to "defend" the sacred places.

Sporadic demonstrations in support of the women in prison were held in front of police headquarters in Moscow and some of the Orthodox churches of the city. For one day, on March 8, the same Christ the Saviour Cathedral was closed "for technical reasons", after some supporters of the band had organized a picket. The real reason explained Kirill Frolov, a member of the Association of Orthodox experts, was "to prevent hooliganism" of those who "would like to carry out sacrilege" in the house of God. But some believers, who wished to pray in the church that day - according to the website credo.ru - said they disagreed with the closure and the Patriarch, who has used harsh words against girls.

On 10 March, during the last opposition rally against the victory of Vladimir Putin in the Russian presidential elections, on Novy Arbat inMoscow, along with the usual caricatures of politicians and anti-Putin slogans, in a group of Orthodox have appeared holding icons and crosses, praying for the release of the two artists.

"Our group has angered authorities, especially after the song 'Putin is afraid' (sung in Red Square and that made the girls famous on the internet) - Pussy Riot explain on their blog - We will not surrender: we have already written a new song and we're waiting for the right time to talk".

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