Pussy Riot group on trial for protest in Moscow cathedral

Tue, Jul 31, 2012, 01:00

THREE WOMEN who performed a “punk prayer” in a Moscow cathedral told a court yesterday in the Russian capital they were not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing, in a case that is being seen as a benchmark of how president Vladimir Putin tolerates dissent.

Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich, all in their twenties, face up to seven years in jail on a charge of hooliganism.

The three women, members of the Russian feminist punk group Pussy Riot, caused outrage when they staged an angry protest against Putin at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February. Dressed in brightly-coloured dresses and balaclavas, the women performed their “punk prayer” at the altar, dancing wildly, occasionally kneeling and shouting an obscenity-laden song that included the line, “Virgin Mary, redeem us of Putin”.

The three were arrested in March and have been in custody without bail.

Amnesty International has declared the women prisoners of conscience and supporters argue their trial is politically-motivated.

All three pleaded not guilty to the charge of hooliganism at the start of the trial yesterday. Alyokhina said they had committed an administrative offence, but not a criminal one.

“We did not think that using the altar as stage would cause moral suffering to anyone because we did not know the rules of the church very well,” Alyokhina said in a statement read to the packed courtroom. “But after five months in jail we have learned them.” Tolokonnikova, also speaking through a lawyer, said they had never intended to offend believers.

“We are not enemies of Christianity. The opinion of Orthodox believers is important to us and we want them to be on our side.”

Seated in a bullet-proof box, the three women were impassive, speaking at the start to give their names, ages, education and other personal details.

Two of the three women confirmed they have small children.