A Moscow court will hear an appeal in the case of three female punk rockers sentenced to two years in a penal colony for singing out against Russian President Vladimir Putin from the altar of the country's most prominent Orthodox cathedral.
Members of the all-female band Pussy Riot, all of whom are under age 30, were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for performing a punk prayer calling on the Virgin Mary to deliver them from then-Prime-Minister Putin.
Lawyers for the women say they are appealing the conviction this Monday because they believe the sentence was politically motivated and that band members were merely voicing their negative opinion of the church’s support for Putin.
Relatives and friends of the band members say they don’t believe the sentences will be reduced.
"The Pussy Riot case is not separate from the rest of the political events in the country," said defense attorney Mark Feigin, referring to the February event at Moscow's Christ the Savior cathedral. "The case is part of the political repression taking place in Russia following the December and March [elections] and everything that followed, when mass protests flooded Russia."
Because there has been a crackdown on dissent since Putin returned to power in May, Feigin added, he doubts there will be any change in the outcome of the trial.
Since Putin's May inauguration, fines for organizing or participating in unsanctioned protests have increased more than 150-fold. Kremlin officials also recently moved to expel the U.S. Agency for International Development, which spent billions of dollars over the past 20 years trying to transition the former Soviet Union from a state-controlled government to a civil society.
Some analysts say that Putin is not allowing any opinions in Russia other than those which endorse his strong-armed image.
The father of band member Yekaterina Samusevich says the verdict is unfair.
"If you think sanely and logically, well, how long can this go on?" he said. "For these 40 seconds of action in the church another half a year in jail. What else do we need? Go ahead, execute them so that no one hears about them."
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has weighed in on the band's sentence, saying he thought the punishment was very severe. Putin also asked the court to go easy on the women. Some analysts say the comments from the administration were merely for show.
Earlier this week, Russia’s lower house of parliament adopted a declaration that says vandalism against church property, the killing of spiritual leaders and blasphemous acts of hooliganism pose a threat to the country’s security and must be countered.
Analysts say the announcement merely tightens the relationship between the Kremlin and the Orthodox Church and is meant to further crack down on the opposition.