Pussy Riot punk trio found guilty of hooliganism by Russian court
12:38PM BST 17 Aug 2012
A Russian judge on Friday sentenced three women from the punk band Pussy Riot to two years in prison after finding them guilty of hooliganism for staging an anti-Kremlin protest on the altar of Moscow's main cathedral.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, a philosophy graduate, Maria Alekhina, 24, a charity worker and environmental activist and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, a computer programming graduate, exchanged a few quick smiles as they heard the verdict from inside the glass enclosure reserved for defendants.
They were arrested after performing a chaotic can-can and shouting a few words of a “punk prayer” which included the words, “Mother of God, drive out Putin” during their protest.
Judge Marina Syrova said the three band members had "carefully planned" their February 21 action inside the Christ the Saviour Cathedral. "Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and Samutsevich committed hooliganism - in other words, a grave violation of public order," she said.
"The court finds them quilty. The court reached this decision based on testimony of the defendants themselves and other evidence."
The judge said the three displayed a "clear disrespect toward society" by bursting into Russia's most important church just weeks before March 4 elections which saw Putin storm his way to an historic third term.
The judge opened the hearing with dozens of passionate band and Orthodox Church followers being held apart by riot police and Western diplomats jostling with reporters for a spot inside the courtoom.
Hundreds of Pussy Riot supporters chanted "Russia without Putin!" amid a heavy police presence. Police rounded up a few dozen protesters, including former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, who is a leading opposition activist, and leftist opposition group leader Sergei Udaltsov.
"Let Pussy Riot and all their supporters burn in hell," one church supporter screamed amid the tumult.
The trio have already apologised for offence caused to Orthodox believers and say their protest was against church leader Patriarch Kirill supporting Mr Putin’s campaign. Critics believe the Kremlin ordered the prosecution
In a handwritten letter smuggled out of prison on the eve of the verdict, Miss Tolokonnikova said Vladimir Putin could not defeat a growing opposition movement. She wrote that the Pussy Riot trial had united disparate forces of dissent against those who “threaten destruction of the liberating, emancipating forces of Russia.”
There is no personal malice,” she wrote in scrawled blue pen. “But there is a political one. Our term in prison is a clear and distinct sign that freedom is being taken away from the whole country. And that threatens destruction of the liberating, emancipating forces of Russia. That’s what makes me angry.”