Prosecutors demand three-year jail sentences for Pussy Riot

 

As the trial of three members of the feminist punk group Pussy Riot comes to a close in Moscow, state prosecutors are demanding a three-year jail sentence for the women. The judge could give her verdict today, in a case that has caused deep divisions within Russia and an international outcry.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, Maria Alekhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, face charges of hooliganism for their performance of a "punk prayer" in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February.

The prosecution has painted them as agents of nefarious forces intent on bringing down the Orthodox Church and Russia itself, while the defendants say the performance was a political protest about the Church's support for President Vladimir Putin.

The performance saw five women, including the three on trial, rush to the space near the altar in the cathedral and dance maniacally. The video footage was later dubbed with the lyrics "Virgin Mary, chase out Putin".

The judge yesterday reprimanded those present for applauding speeches by defence lawyers and the defendants, and for laughing at many statements made by prosecutors.

The maximum sentence would be seven years, but after Mr Putin was quizzed on the case during a recent visit to the London Olympics and said that the women should "not be judged too severely", it was always unlikely that the three would receive the harshest punishment. A lawyer for the "victims" of the case, mainly church employees and members of the congregation, lent her voice to prosecutors' calls for a jail sentence. "They could do this again, in a cathedral, or a mosque or a synagogue," said Larisa Pavlova. "Some people felt physically bad [after witnessing the "punk prayer"], some people had problems with their hearts, some people needed to be calmed down and given tablets. And the defendants laughed at this!"

There were a number of surreal moments during the day, as there have been throughout the trial, including a discussion of whether the ideology of feminism was blasphemous. "I am unbelievably ashamed to listen to the words of the state prosecutor," said Violetta Volkova, one of the defence lawyers. "It's as if we don't live in Russia in the 21st century, but in some kind of fantasy land."

Musicians who have called on the court to show leniency towards Pussy Riot include Madonna, who was giving a concert in Moscow last night.

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