08/08/2012, 00.00
RUSSIA

Verdict in Pussy Riot trial on 17 August, accused could get three years

Nina Achmatova
The trial of the female punk band charged with hooliganism and religious hatred for singing in church against Putin has divided Russian public opinion. Abroad, the group has instead received the solidarity of the world's musicians and political leaders.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The three-women anti-Putin feminist punk band on trial in Moscow since 30 July for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" defended themselves by speaking about Stalin, Dostoevsky, Soviet dissidents, the terror of the 1930s and Socrates. On Monday, prosecutors called for three-year labour camp sentences for its members for belting out their "punk prayer" in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral in February during which they pleaded with the Virgin to free the country from Vladimir Putin.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, one of the three accused, has compared their trial to those of Russia's Stalinist era, calling it a "political order for repression (that meets) the standards of Stalinist troikas," expecting "the collapse of this political system". Her reference was to the show trials conducted by three-judge panels against people who had run afoul of the Soviet regime.

The trial, which is being held in Moscow's Khamovnichesky courthouse, has divided Russian public opinion.

Yesterday, the court announced that the verdict against Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (22), Maria Aliokhina (24) and Ekaterina Samukevitch (29) would be rendered on 17 August.

All three women, who have young children, have been held in preventive custody and could have received a maximum of seven years. However, on 2 August, President Putin appealed for a lighter sentence, words that worked on the prosecution.

Deemed prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, the Pussy Riot apologised for the action, saying that it was political, unrelated to the Orthodox religion.

However, Orthodox commentators in Russian media said that it is impossible not to take into account that the cathedral has become the symbol of Russia's religious revival after 70 years state atheism, and that is stands as a monument to all those who died for their faith under the Soviet Union.

As soon as the incident occurred, the patriarch of Moscow called for an exemplary sentence without any clemency as did many Orthodox believers.

The three accused attacked the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. "We did not turn Christ the Saviour into a political arena," said Ekaterina Samukevitch, "Patriarch Kirill did when he tried to convince believers to vote for Putin before the election."

The women's defence lawyer Nikolai Polozov said that any verdict other than innocence would be illegal.

Fellow lawyer Mark Feigin warned that Pussy riot supporters around the world are ready to protest as soon as the guilty verdict is announced, which no one doubts it will be.

In the past few weeks, the punk group, who through their performance in February wanted to attack the close ties between the Russian Orthodox patriarchate and the Kremlin, was overwhelmed by statements of solidarity from the world's artistic community, people like Bjork, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Madonna and other international mega music starts.

However, the three young women have also received the support of political leaders. As Germany's Der Spiegel reported, 121 members of the Bundestag sent a letter to the Russian ambassador to Germany expressing their support for the Pussy Riot.

The European Union announced that it would continue to monitor developments in the case.

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