Germans throw book at Luther’s home town over free speech nomination for Pussy Riot ‘blasphemy’

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The German town where ­Martin Luther sparked the Reformation five centuries ago has been accused of honouring blasphemy by nominating Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot for a freedom of speech prize.

Politicians in Lutherstadt ­Wittenberg have recommended Pussy Riot for the national “Fearless Word” prize in honour of Luther, a monk excommunicated after nailing 95 theses to a church door in 1517 and criticising corruption in the Roman Catholic Church.

Delegates from 16 German towns with links to Luther will decide next month on the winner of the €10,000 (£8,000) prize.

However, Wittenberg town council’s nomination has stirred outrage among many Germans – Protestant and Catholic – who object to the band’s staging of their punk protest against Russian president Vladimir Putin in a Moscow Orthodox cathedral.

“It would be a disastrous signal if our town’s nomination of Pussy Riot were to win the Luther Prize,” said Friedrich Schorlemmer, a local protestant theologian and civil rights activist. “A Luther town should not honour blasphemy,” he told the Leipziger Volkszeitung, adding that both the band’s name and its lyrics were objectionable.

Three members of Pussy Riot were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred in August and are in jail after staging a “punk prayer” in the Christ the Saviour Church and asking the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Mr Putin.

In response to the outcry, Wittenberg council is looking at options for revoking the nomination. A spokeswoman said: “There had been a feeling that it was legitimate for the band to be provocative and break a taboo.”

She said a planned public meeting about the nomination had failed to take off.