Prosecutors seek three years in jail for Pussy Riot members

Wed, Aug 8, 2012, 01:00

PROSECUTORS HAVE called for three-year prison sentences for the women who sang against Russian president Vladimir Putin at the altar of a Moscow cathedral.

In the final stages yesterday of the trial of feminist punk group Pussy Riot, the prosecution argued the three women should be convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”.

Maria Alyokhina (24), Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (22) and Yekaterina Samutsevich (29) say their act was a political protest not intended to offend believers.

Rejecting these arguments, state prosecutor Alexei Nikiforov accused the women of a provocation designed to discredit church teaching.

“Blasphemy is the most terrible moral crime,” he told the court in his closing statement. “They behaved so impudently that they caused maximum pain to believers.”

In February five Pussy Riot activists wearing colourful dresses and balaclavas entered the gold-domed Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow, where they performed a manic one-minute dance routine at the altar, shouting: “Holy Mother of God, throw Putin out!”

The women told the court earlier the stunt was planned after the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, endorsed Mr Putin’s return to the presidency. The prelate described Mr Putin’s 12 years in power as “a miracle of God”.

“It was not us who made the Christ the Saviour Cathedral into a political tribune, but the patriarch,” Ms Samutsevich said in her closing remarks yesterday.

“I am sure that if we had sang ‘Holy Mother, protect Putin’, then we would not be sitting here now.”

A lawyer for the prosecution, who described feminism as a “moral sin”, said their air-punching dance was evidence of hatred.

“From the video it is clear that we did not show any aggression to anyone,” Ms Tolokonnikova said, noting the group had chosen garish colours to emphasise the carnival nature of their protest and not to scare people. “We are good, kind people and that is why we dressed in these acid colours.”

Ms Alyokhina described the process as illegitimate. “We all must be acquitted, once and for all.”

The case has exposed the sharp social divide between those who identify as Orthodox Christians and secular urban Russians yearning for political change.

One-third of Russians think jail terms of between two and seven years would be an appropriate punishment, while 43 per cent think it too harsh, according to a survey last month of 1,601 adults by pollster Levada.

Many Orthodox believers were offended by the dance at the altar, a space reserved for male prelates.

In an open letter to Novaya Gazeta newspaper, more than 170 lawyers argued that the women had not committed a crime and that bringing their case to court was “a legal mistake”.

The punk group found another backer when Madonna weighed in on their side. The singer, who has infuriated the Vatican in the past with her raunchy religious-themed videos, told Reuters it would be a tragedy if the three women were jailed.

Support also came from Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the imprisoned former oil tycoon who was sentenced in the same room in 2010.

Khodorkovsky likened the women’s trial to a medieval inquisition. He also recalled his days spent in the airless “aquarium” – the wooden and perspex box for the accused in Khamovnichesky courtroom seven – where “you feel like a tropical fish” and get dry noodles to eat during short breaks.

The defence team has lambasted the court process, saying the women get little food and sleep.

Defence lawyer Violetta Volkova said the women had been victims of “torture, degrading and inhuman treatment”, which would be detailed in a case the defence was bringing to the European Court of Human Rights.

The case resumes today.