Friday, August 17, 2012

Russian female punk band Pussy Riot found guilty of hooliganism over Putin protest at church site

CBS/AP

UPDATE: (Reuters) - A judge sentenced three members of Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot to two years jail.

A Russian judge found three members of the provocative punk band Pussy Riot guilty of hooliganism on Friday, in one of the most closely watched cases in recent Russian history.

The judge said the three band members committed hooliganism driven by religious hatred and offending religious believers.

The three were arrested in March after a guerrilla performance in Moscow's main cathedral in February calling for the Virgin Mary to protect Russia against Vladimir Putin, who was elected to a new term as Russia's president a few days later.

They face a maximum seven years in prison. The sentence is to be handed down later Friday.

When they called the band Pussy Riot and began performing in-your-face protest-punk, they knew they'd draw some attention, CBS News correspondent Charlie D'Agata reports. That was the point.

But when they chose Moscow's main cathedral -- the most sacred site in the Russian Orthodox Church -- to bang out a flash protest song against Putin, Russian authorities decided it was time for a crackdown.

"We accept our ethical misdemeanor, but an ethical misdemeanor should not be a cause of criminal punishment," band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said through a translator before the verdict.

The case has attracted international attention as an emblem of Russia's intolerance of dissent. It also underlines the vast influence of the church. Although church and state are formally separate, the church identifies itself as the heart of Russian national identity and critics say its strength effectively makes it a quasi-state entity.

D'Agata reports the band's cause was taken up by artists and musicians around the globe who saw the case as part of Putin's wider attempts to crush the protest movement and free speech, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Paul McCartney, who posted a message to Twitter Thursday saying:

"I hope you can stay strong and believe that I and many others like me who believe in free speech will do everything in our power to support you and the idea of artistic freedom."

Madonna recently performed with the name of the band on her back.

"They have done something courageous," she said. "I think they have paid the price for this act, and I pray for their freedom."

The remaining members of the band have said whatever the outcome, women in Russia and beyond should grab a facemask, gather together and cause a riot of their own in support.

Protests timed to just before the verdict or soon afterward were planned in more than three dozen cities worldwide.

In Moscow, police have already rounded up supporters of the band, including former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, and leftist opposition group leader Sergei Udaltsov. Hundreds had filled a narrow street where the court is located, chanting "Russia without Putin!" amid heavy police presence.

Prosecutors have asked for three-year sentences, down from the possible seven-year maximum and Putin himself has said he hopes the sentencing is not "too severe."

Before Friday's proceedings began, defense lawyer Nikolai Polozov said the women "hope for an acquittal but they are ready to continue to fight."

Even if the women are sentenced only to time already served, the case has already strongly clouded Russia's esteem overseas and stoked the resentment of opposition partisans who have turned out in a series of massive rallies since last winter.
The case comes in the wake of several recently passed laws cracking down on opposition, including one that raised the fine for taking part in an unauthorized demonstrations by 150 times to 300,000 rubles (about $9,000).

Another measure requires non-government organizations that both engage in vaguely defined political activity and receive funding from abroad to register as "foreign agents."

2 comments:

  1. To be fair, if satanists would come to a church in the US and disrupt the service, they can be convicted for criminal tresspassing and disorderly conduct. 2 years is, of course, too harsh punishment. In Russia, an administrative punishment (up to 15 days arrest and a fine) would be the most suitable for this punk group action. The kangaroo trial showed that the Russian court is a laughingstock. The injustice starts with the fact that the Cathedral is the property of city of Moscow, and not Orthodox church. The city of Moscow cannot restrict freedom of speech as stated in Russian constitution. Beyond that, the judge refused to accept relevant witnesses, evidences, which outraged lawyers even on the prosecution side. It is a shame.

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  2. The punishment seems excessive to the crime, and there is no doubt that Russia is an oppressive state...They take right decision to punish all three criminals..!!

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