Pussy Rioter freed, but others will stay in prison

 

A Moscow appeal court freed one of the members of the punk group Pussy Riot yesterday, but ruled that the other two women would have to serve their full two-year jail sentences.

Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, had her two-year term commuted to a suspended sentence, after her lawyer argued that she had not taken part fully in the "punk prayer" that the women performed in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral.

The three appeal judges took just half an hour to come to their decision, and ruled that the co-defendants, 24-year-old Maria Alekhina and 22-year-old Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, were guilty as charged, of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" and that their sentences should stand.

The February stunt, when five women rushed the altar at Russia's biggest church and performed a brief, impromptu song calling on the Virgin Mary to "chase out Putin", has become an international cause celebre.

Most Russians disapproved of the initial performance in the cathedral, but as the case dragged on over spring and summer, and it became clear that the Orthodox Church and government were pressing for a real custodial sentence for the trio, public opinion began to switch and the women have gained many supporters, especially among the Moscow liberal elite.

President Vladimir Putin denied that he was involved in any way in the decision to prosecute the women.

The women were defiant in their speeches. "I want to warn you all that everything you are doing… will lead to a civil war in Russia," said Ms Tolokonnikova, before the judge told her to be silent, as she did each time the speeches turned to politics.

All three women apologised for any offence caused to religious believers by their actions but reiterated the same line of defence they had used during the trial, that the act was a political protest against Mr Putin and the close backing he is given by the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church, and not motivated by any anti-religious feeling.

Many pop stars have come out in solidarity with the women. Madonna performed a song in Moscow last month with the words "Pussy Riot" stencilled on to her torso.

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