Russian punk band Pussy Riot goes on hunger strike

 

Moscow

Three members of a punk rock group announced a hunger strike yesterday, in a case that is causing growing outrage in Moscow's creative and cultural circles. The decision to go on a hunger strike came after a Moscow court told them they must prepare their defence by Monday.

The trio, part of the Pussy Riot punk band, have been in jail awaiting trial for four months over a performance stunt in a Moscow cathedral. They face up to seven years behind bars if found guilty of hooliganism and have remained in prison ahead of the trial despite several offers of bail sureties and the fact that two of the three women have young children.

Protesters and supporters gathered outside the Moscow courtroom yesterday, where the defence was tabling a motion asking for more time to look at the 2,800 pages of case documents. "There is nothing in Russian law that could qualify these actions as criminal," said Nikolai Polozov, a lawyer for Maria Alekhina, one of the three, outside the courtroom. "The case is full of procedural violations and they are trying to speed up the hearing to ensure that we don't have time to respond to them all."

"The decision has been taken at the highest level that they should be kept in jail," Mark Feigin, another lawyer representing the women, said.

The charges relate to a "performance" in Christ the Saviour Cathedral, the biggest church in Moscow, when five women rushed to the altar and sang a song called "Virgin Mary, Chase out Putin!" in reference to the then-upcoming election of Vladimir Putin as President. Mr Putin has criticised the performance, which many have taken as a signal to the courts to impose a harsh punishment.

Over 100 Russian cultural figures, including some known for pro-government views, have signed a letter calling for the release of the trio. "We see no legal basis or practical reason for the further isolation of these young women, who do not pose any real danger to society," the letter said. Three of the women were arrested a fortnight later, while the other two are still on the run.

The Russian Orthodox Church has come in for criticism for not intervening in the case and calling for mercy. Instead, leading church figures have criticised the women and the head of the church, Patriarch Kirill, has claimed that the women desecrated holy relics during their performance.

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