Moscow (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The Khamovniki District Court in Moscow sentenced
three members of the punk-rock collective 'Pussy Riot' to two years in prison for
"hooliganism [. . .] motivated by religious hatred."
Judge Marina Syrov read out her decision at 6 pm, local time. The trial, which
has attracted hundreds of journalists from around the world, also drew a crowd
of thousands who protested outside the courthouse. Police eventually proceeded
to arrest some demonstrators who were demanding the prisoners' release,
including Left Front coordinator Serghei Udaltsov.
On 21 February, the three women-Alyokhina (24), Nadezhda Tolokonnikova
(22) and Yekaterina Samutsevich (29)-and other members of the group performed a
song at the altar of Saint Saviour Cathedral, shocking the worshippers present.
The lyrics, which called on the Virgin to "throw Putin out," also slammed
the close ties between Orthodox Church leaders and the president, whom they
accuse of using his relationship with high ranking clerical officials to stay
The protest enraged the Orthodox Church, which responded accusing the group
of hooliganism and insulting religious faith.
Over the past few months, the Pussy Riot affair became a worldwide cause
célèbre. Today, protests are expected in 54 cities, including New York, London,
Madrid, Berlin, Sydney, Paris and Warsaw.
The group's supporters have gathered in front of the courthouse in Khamovniki
District, where the trial is being held. Activists in Russia's main cities have
covered statues with colourful balaclavas, the group's symbol.
In recent days, singers and other artists like Paul McCartney, Peter
Gabriel and Madonna as well as other rock singers and Hollywood actors have
spoken out in favour of three women, who have come to symbolise freedom of
At a concert in Moscow on 8 August, Madonna read messages defending the
three women, drawing the ire of Russian Vice Premier Dmitry Rogozin.
The affair has in fact split Russian public opinion between those who want
exemplary punishment for the insult to the nation's religious sentiments and
those who defend the group members as representatives of freedom of expression.
In an open letter to President Putin published last night, Nadezhda
Tolokonnikova said, "Our jailing is a
clear and distinct sign that freedom is being taken from everyone in the
Two members of the "Pussy Riot" collective
who are still at large, in an interview posted on the Afisha portal, described their action in the cathedral as "successful,"
claiming that it boosted "Pluralism [. . .], both political and religious".
Calling themselves anarcho-individualists
and feminists, the fugitives said that their three
colleagues' imprisonment "gives a stimulus" to the cause. This way, "the
work and ideas of 'Pussy Riot' may advance yet further."
In the hours leading up to the sentence, some elderly people holding an
icon outside the courthouse called for the three women to be punished.
"Maybe what they did was morally wrong," said a 25-year-old woman, yet "is it
worth all this [the conviction]?" Indeed, the three women "shouldn't go to
prison for just expressing themselves. The Kremlin is just being reactionary
and giving in to more conservative forces."
Conversely, it is also possible that the trial might not only boost the anti-Putin
opposition, but it may also increase resentment and contempt for the Orthodox
Church in particular and religion in general.
In Kiev, Ukraine, earlier today, a half-naked activist
from the Femen group chopped down a wooden cross using a chain saw in protest
at the Pussy Riot trial.