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Russia Faces Criticism over Band Sentence

  • VOA News

Feminist punk group Pussy Riot members, from left, Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass cage at a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, August 17, 2012.

Feminist punk group Pussy Riot members, from left, Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass cage at a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, August 17, 2012.

Russia is facing mounting criticism of the two-year prison sentence for "hooliganism" given to members of an all-female punk band for their protest in an Orthodox cathedral.

A judge handed down the sentence Friday for three members of the band Pussy Riot, prompting demonstrations in cities across the globe, including Moscow, London, Paris and New York.

The women's legal team plans to appeal the verdict.

The band members were arrested in March after performing a "punk prayer" in Moscow's main cathedral, pleading with the Virgin Mary to deliver Russia from Vladimir Putin, who was elected to a third term as Russia's president weeks after the protest.

The Orthodox Church issued a statement Friday, calling on Russian authorities to show the women "mercy" within the framework of the law.

The French news agency, AFP, reports that a telephone poll conducted by the Echo of Moscow radio station Saturday indicated 77 percent of listeners felt it was "impossible to agree with the verdict."

The U.S. said the sentence was "disproportionate" and urged Russian authorities to review the case to ensure the right to freedom of expression is upheld.

The European Union's top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, said the case adds to what she called a recent upsurge in politically motivated intimidation and prosecution of opposition activists in Russia.

Amnesty International says it considers the women prisoners of conscience.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the Moscow courthouse Friday to support the band. Some were arrested, including opposition leader Sergei Ukaltsov and former chess champion Garry Kasparov who is a strong critic of Putin.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.

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