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August 02, 2012

Bomb Scare Delays Russian Punk Protest Trial

by Jessica Golloher

MOSCOW — A bomb scare forced a delay in the Moscow trial of punk music band Pussy Riot. Members of the group were charged with "hooliganism" after a performance against President Vladimir Putin on the altar of Russia’s main Orthodox church. Witnesses say the courthouse was evacuated Thursday but members of the band were not.

The Khamovnichesky District Court was briefly evacuated after officials say a bomb threat was made.

Members of the band, 22-year-old Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 24-year-old Maria Alyokhina and 29-year-old Yekaterina Samutsevich, say they were not evacuated, but others inside the facility were. Mark Feigin, a lawyer for the women, tweeted that the band members were not removed from the court during the scare.

​​The three have been charged with hooliganism, which carries a sentence of up to seven years in prison. They were charged after performing what the media are calling an anti-Putin punk prayer on the altar of Christ the Savior, Russia’s most prominent cathedral.

During their February performance, band members called on the Virgin Mary to deliver them from Putin. Band members say they wanted to highlight and criticize the head of the country’s Orthodox church, Patriarch Kirill, for supporting Putin during his presidential campaign. The performance angered the patriarch.

During the first few days of their trial, band members apologized for offending the church and anyone else who found their actions inappropriate. The women say they were merely trying to express their opinion. They pleaded not guilty to the hooliganism charges.

The band's supporters say the trial of Pussy Riot is politically motivated.

Nikolai Polozov, a lawyer for the group, says a number of well-known politicians will confirm that there is a political component to this trial.

"That these girls took part in political actions, and that the motive of their actions was not any sort of religious hatred as the prosecution is trying to present, but rather that this case has an exclusively political motivation to it so that our defendants are punished for the words and the opinions that they voiced," he said.

Putin has faced unprecedented protests against his administration. Demonstrators say he runs the country through a tightly-controlled political system and corruption, a charge the Kremlin denies. Since Putin took office in May, fines for participating in unsanctioned protests have increased at least 150-fold.

Lawyers for the band believe the trial will end swiftly.

Mark Feigin, another attorney for the punk group, says in this situation it is very likely that the court will reach a decision in the next few days.

"One way or another, we should expect the verdict any day now," he said. "The verdict will be guilty, and we can't definitely rely now on anything changing the course of this trial."

The Kremlin has consistently maintained that unsanctioned protests are against the law and that actions resulting from any demonstrations could harm innocent people.

View the photo gallery of Russia's crackdown on dissidents:

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