Jailing Putin trio for three years is ‘lenient’, court told
Prosecutors yesterday called for three-year sentences for the members of a feminist punk band who protested against president Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral.
The court move came despite demands by human rights groups that the three women be set free.
Defence lawyers and an influential Russian Orthodox cleric also warned that jailing the trio could backfire, weakening trust between ordinary Russians and national institutions.
A verdict in the trial, which has gained world coverage, is expected this week.
Yesterday, prosecutor Alexander Nikiforov said three years would be lenient, saying the recommendation takes into account the fact that two of the defendants are young mothers and that they have good character references. The hooliganism charges the three women, members of the Pussy Riot band, face can carry a sentence of up to seven years in prison.
The three women – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23; Maria Alekhina, 24; and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29 – have been in custody for five months following the February stunt, in which they took over a church pulpit in Christ the Saviour cathedral for less than a minute, singing, high-kicking and dancing in an anti-Putin stunt.
Their case is part of a widening crackdown on dissent that followed Mr Putin’s election in March and caused strong protests in Russia and abroad.
Musicians including Madonna, the Who’s Pete Townshend and Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys urged the trio be freed. The defendants have said their goal was to express their resentment over Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill’s support for Mr Putin’s rule. But prosecutors have insisted throughout the trial that there were no political motives behind the performance.
“They set themselves off against the Orthodox world and sought to devalue traditions and dogmas that have been formed for the centuries,” Mr Nikiforov said yesterday.
Larisa Pavlova, a lawyer for the church employees who were described as the injured party in the case, told the court that she supports the sentencing recommendation.
Ms Pavlova said most hooliganism in Russia is committed when people are drunk and they often regret what they have done – but the defendants “thoroughly planned, rehearsed [their performance] and were fully aware of what they were doing.”
“And they had the audacity to say in court that they did the right thing, that it’s OK and that they’re ready to keep on doing such things,” shea said.
Pussy Riot lawyer Violetta Volkova voiced the band’s complaint that the women had been deprived of sleep and food throughout the trial, describing it as “torture.”
“In this trial, authorities, not the girls, have dealt a crushing blow on the Russian Orthodox Church,” Ms Volkova said. “Time has turned back – back to the Middle Ages.”
The trial has sharply divided Russia. Some believers felt insulted by the protest, while others believe they are innocents who are being treated unfairly.
Mark Feygin, a lawyer for the band, argued that a guilty verdict would “break a bond between the government and people for good” and that “society will never forgive the state for persecuting the innocent”.
Orthodox leaders have ignored calls by many believers to have the women pardoned.
Archdeacon Andrei Kurayev, an Orthodox blogger and professor of the Moscow Theological Academy, warned yesterday that jailing the three women would “turn them into martyrs” and would only feed hostility toward the church.
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