MOSCOW — A state prosecutor in Russia called on the judge at the Khamovnichesky [Moscow] District Court to give three young protest musicians in the band Pussy Riot a three-year sentence for singing a punk prayer against President Vladimir Putin at Russia’s most prominent Orthodox church.
In closing arguments, Federal Prosecutor Alexei Nikiforov said that 22-year-old Nadezhda Tolokonnilkova, 24-year-old Maria Alyokhnia and 29-year-old Yekaterina Samutsevich had abused God when they performed their punk rock song on the altar of Christ the Savior Cathedral by using swear words in church.
Nikiforov went on to say that the young women’s actions showed religious hatred and that the band members humiliated and mocked members of Russia’s powerful Orthodox Church.
Band members have been charged with hooliganism and have pleaded not guilty. If convicted, the charge carries up to seven years in prison.
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The three young women have apologized for offending the church, but say they were just trying to express their own opinion when they called on the Virgin Mary to deliver them from Putin.
The group's lawyer, Mark Feigin, said their apology will have little or no effect on the case because he believes legal authorities already have decided they will be found guilty. Meanwhile, Putin has called for leniency in the case. Feigin said Putin's statement is unlikely to change the verdict or sentencing.
Feigin said the judge is biased towards the prosecutors. He said his clients likely will be given their sentences soon and they likely will be sent to a penal colony. He said he believes Putin's statement was made to ease concerns about the impact of the case.
The trial of the three musician activists has generated worldwide condemnation, and is seen by many as a test case for Putin and his tolerance of dissent in Russia. There have been widespread protests in recent months - the largest since the collapse of the Soviet Union - about how Russia's presidential election was carried out earlier this year. Critics of Putin say he won the vote by fraud and that he rules the country through a tightly controlled political system that relies on corruption to achieve its goals. The Kremlin denies all of the claims.
As a verdict in the trial gets closer, more and more attention is being focused on it. Kerry McCarthy, a member of parliament from the British Labour Party, said her constituents are paying close attention.
"I think a lot of people in the U.K. didn't take it very seriously until quite recently. They saw the TV coverage, they thought, well, it's quite a silly stunt, it's just people sort of messing around," said McCarthy. "But I think now the attention is focused on it, people do think that it says quite a lot about human rights in Russia and about the protest movement, and to what extent the authorities will tolerate certain forms of protest. And so I think therefore, that's the reason why in some ways it's gained significance beyond what it was originally all about. And that is why the world is watching very closely."
A verdict is expected to be handed down this week and Russia's opposition says it already is planning to protest the expected outcome.