A judge sentenced three members of feminist punk band Pussy Riot to two years in jail yesterday for staging a protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin in a church, an act the judge called “blasphemous.”
Supporters of the women say their case has put Putin’s tolerance of dissent on trial. Several opposition figures were detained outside the courtroom while protesting in support of the women.
The women have support abroad, where their case has been taken up by a long list of celebrities, including Madonna, Paul McCartney and Sting, but polls show few Russians sympathize with them.
Judge Marina Syrova found the women guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, describing them as blasphemers, who had deliberately offended Russian Orthodox believers by storming the altar of Moscow’s main cathedral in February to belt out a song deriding Putin.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Marina Alekhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, stood watching in handcuffs in a glass courtroom cage.
The women say they were protesting against Putin’s close ties with the church when they burst onto the altar in Moscow’s golden-domed Christ the Saviour Cathedral wearing bright ski masks, tights and short skirts. State prosecutors had requested a three-year jail term.
“Tolokonnikova, Samutsevich and Alekhina committed an act of hooliganism, a gross violation of public order, showing obvious disrespect for society,” the judge said. “The girls’ actions were sacrilegious, blasphemous and broke the church’s rules.”
Though few Russians have much sympathy for the women, Putin’s opponents portray the trial as part of a wider crackdown to crush their protest movement.
Foreign stars have campaigned for the trio’s release and Washington says the case is politically motivated.
“As in most politically motivated cases, this court is not in line with the law, common sense or mercy,” veteran human rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva said.
However, Valentina Ivanova, 60, a retired doctor, said outside the courtroom before the verdict was delivered: “What they did showed disrespect toward everything, and toward believers first of all.”
“Let them get three years in jail — they need to wise up,” she added.
Witnesses saw at least 24 people detained by police in scuffles, or for unfurling banners or donning balaclavas in support of Pussy Riot outside the courtroom.
Among those detained were Sergei Udaltsov, an opposition leader, and Garry Kasparov, the chess great and vehement Putin critic.