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Pussy Riot three found guilty

Two-year prison sentence sparks rallies and protests

Facing a two-year prison sentence: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich of the punk band Pussy Riot are found guilty of sedition by a Russian court

Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich have been found guilty today, 17 August, of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. The term hooliganism since the days of the Soviet Union has strong overtones of political dissent. They were sentenced to two years in a prison colony for their guerrilla performance of a punk “prayer” against Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill I of the Russian Orthodox Church in front of the altar of Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral last February, a Moscow court ruled on Friday.

Patriarch Kirill I, who is heavily supported by the government and in turn has given it his full allegiance, did not waver from his early hard opinion of the women’s action, calling it a “desecration” of the cathedral.

The scene outside the courtroom was tense. Among Pussy Riot’s supporters outside the court as the verdict was handed down were artists, some wearing colourful balaclavas like those worn by the defendants during their anti-Putin protest. Others were in T-shirts with a line from the punk prayer: “O Birthgiver of God, Get Rid of Putin.” Cossacks and Russian nationalists who have condemned Pussy Riot’s actions also crowded around the courthouse building in Moscow. Riot police periodically dragged away protesters, including the chess champion and opposition politician Garry Kasparov.

In the text of the verdict that she read outside of Moscow’s Khamovnichesky Court this afternoon, Judge Maria Syrova said, according to the Interfax news agency, that Pussy Riot’s “action was carried out in a clearly disrespectful form, lacking in any moral basis and clearly expressing their religious hatred and enmity towards one of the religions that exists in our day— Christianity—infringing on its equal rights, identity, and great meaning to a great number of nations and peoples.”

The defence team had argued that little of the punk “prayer” had actually taken place inside the cathedral. The viral video of the performance was made from spliced footage and later set to recorded music with the lyrics “O Birthgiver of God, Get Rid of Putin” and “Holy Shit” as a refrain.

Amnesty International said in a statement that “the ruling represents a ‘bitter blow’ for freedom of expression in the country”. The case has drawn international attention that included rallies held around the world and statements of support in recent weeks and days from among others including musicians Paul McCartney, Bjork, Peter Gabriel and Madonna.

In Kiev today, Femen, the feminist group famous for protesting topless, chopped down a cross that had been put up in 2005 to commemorate victims of Stalinist repression in an action to show their support for Pussy Riot.

UPDATE: The US State Department released a memo after the sentencing of the three women saying: "The United States is concerned about both the verdict and the disproportionate sentences handed down by a Moscow court in the case against the members of the band Pussy Riot and the negative impact on freedom of expression in Russia. We urge Russian authorities to review this case and ensure that the right to freedom of expression is upheld."

Reactions to the protest and the charges

“As a practicing Christian I found it rather unpleasant that these young women broke into the main cathedral of the country and organised a debauch. However, as a lawyer I am prepared to look at it soberly and rationally. I do not think they should be severely punished. Yes, perhaps give them a criminal record, but don’t imprison them for a long term.” — Alexander Konovalov, minister of justice fore Russian Federation

“I am not Orthodox, but I like Orthodox churches as I feel inspiration there. Churches encourage our spiritual growth. One should not allow unbridled hussies in, who were stage managed and paid by some other party to do what they did. I don’t think there will be a significant reaction if they are given an exemplary seven-year sentence.” — Joseph Kobzon, singer and member of parliament

“Our pious forefathers, who foresaw that Russia would be a great state, laid the foundation stone of this cathedral, a place of encounter with the sacred. And now in the 21st century their descendants have desecrated it. The days when people resolved such issues by force are in the past, praise be to God. But what should happen now in our land that owes the very fact of its existence to the Orthodox Church and the Orthodox faith that inspired our people to perform the greatest acts of heroism, including the defence of the Fatherland in 1812? People are trying to vindicate this sacrilege, to present it as a sort of a joke. I am greatly saddened and made sick at heart by the fact that among them are some who consider themselves Orthodox.” — Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow and All Russia (from an official statement released on 24 March 2012)

“There will inevitably be a growth in anticlerical sentiment if they turn these girls into martyrs (God forbid!). The mere fact that the investigating officer [has threatened] to take the child away from one member of the band and send it to a children’s home is quite enough. Let’s ignore the protests that this [action] has offended people. Thousands of believers were offended by the theories of Copernicus and Galileo; Darwin offended millions, some of whom still can’t shut up.” — Dmitry Gutov, artist

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Comments

21 Aug 12
15:10 CET

A MCDONALD, NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE

They don`t censure discussion comments at Rolling Stone on this subject ! The Art Newspaper can now publish `The True Blasphemy` by Slavoj Zizek. But will it ever?

20 Aug 12
3:48 CET

JAMES A. DONALD, SINGAPORE

If you desacrate your own altar in your own venue, that is freedom of speech and freedom of religion. If you desecrate someone else's altar in someone else's venue, that is an attack on their freedom of speech and their freedom of religion. The longer the time that Pussy riot spends in jail, the better protected is freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

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