Russian court postpones Pussy Riot appeal hearing

 

A Russian court has postponed the appeal of three members of jailed rock band Pussy Riot until October 10 after one of them fired her lawyers.

The three performers were sentenced to two years in prison in August for performing a "punk prayer" against President Vladimir Putin at Moscow's main cathedral.

Yekaterina Samutsevich announced at the opening of hearings that she had sacked her three lawyers over an unspecified disagreement.

A day before the hearing, the Russian Orthodox Church said the rockers would deserve mercy if they offered repentance for their stunt.

The move followed a statement by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who said keeping them in prison any longer would be "unproductive".

Samutsevich said she had secured the services of another lawyer but had failed to sign a contract.

Prosecutors in the court condemned the move as a delaying tactic.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alekhina, 24, and 30-year-old Samutsevich were arrested in March after dancing and high-kicking at Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral as they pleaded with the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Mr Putin, who was elected to a third presidential term two weeks later.

They said during their trial in August that they were protesting over the Russian Orthodox Church's support for Mr Putin and did not intend to offend religious believers.

Pyotr Verzilov, Tolokonnikova's husband, said ahead of today's hearing that he doubted the appeal would be successful.

"We never had hope in the Russian state. Now all we do is mount the public campaign and bring attention to the girls' case,"" he told The Associated Press, speaking in English.

The band members' imprisonment has come to symbolise intolerance of dissent in Mr Putin's Russia and caused a strong international condemnation. Their cause has been taken up by celebrities and musicians, including Madonna and Sir Paul McCartney, and protests have been held around the world.

Even some government loyalists criticised the harsh sentence, voicing concern about the church's interference in secular affairs and a growing repressive streak in the Kremlin's policies.

Dozens of supporters gathered outside the court building in solidarity with the group.

The group's actions, however, have also fostered irritation among many Russians over what they perceive to be international meddling in their justice system.

A group of anti-Pussy Riot demonstrators outside the court carried inflatable female dolls in balaclavas to the court building in protest at international organisations bestowing awards on the band.

AP

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