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August 08, 2012

Russian Judge Sets Date for Verdict in Controversial Rock Band Trial

by Jessica Golloher

MOSCOW — A Moscow judge says she will issue a verdict in the controversial trial of three Russian feminist punk rockers on August 17th. The three could spend up to seven years in jail if they are found guilty of hooliganism.  

Band members Nadezhda Tolokonnilkova, 22, Maria Alyokhnia, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, are on trial accused of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.

Prosecutor's have asked the court for a three-year sentence for the band members of Pussy Riot for bursting into Moscow's main cathedral in February and singing a "punk prayer" against Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, who at the time was urging Russians to vote for Putin in the country's presidential election.    

The charges carry a maximum penalty of seven years and lawyers for the women say a guilty verdict is a foregone conclusion. Last week President Putin criticized the Pussy Riot stunt, but asked the women not be judged "too harshly," further evidence the women's lawyers say of an inevitable guilty verdict.  

Speaking during closing arguments Wednesday, lawyer Mark Feigin said the punk protest was a political act and should not be judged in a criminal court. 

Feigin says the protest was a political manifesto against a totalitarian state, Vladimir Putin, and a discriminatory system that denies justice. He says his clients have not groveled in front of the court or pleaded for mercy or said anything that could be misinterpreted as remorse.  

The bandmembers pleaded not guilty to the charges, but apologized to Orthodox believers saying they did not intend to offend anyone, but wanted to protest Russia's political system and elections that many international observers described as flawed.  

Speaking in court Wednesday Nadezhda Tolokonnilkova said she and her bandmates wanted more "freedom than those in the prosecution" and that they should be allowed to say what they want.

She says she and her bandmates are also good people.

There is growing criticism of the trial. Russia's opposition has promised protests if the women receive a guilty verdict, despite the threat of jail time and fines for unsanctioned protests that have recently been increased by 150-fold in some cases, amounting to more than the annual income for an average Russian.  

Musicians around the world are also protesting.  Tuesday pop singer Madonna performed a Moscow concert with the name of the band "Pussy Riot" displayed on her back, and also wore a balaclava similar to the colorful ones worn by the band.

On Wednesday about a dozen demonstrators protested outside the Moscow courthouse and at least three were detained by authorities. 


Watch related video of trial

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