Pussy Riot case likened to Stalin show trials

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THREE RUSSIAN women facing jail for a protest in a Moscow cathedral, will learn their fate next week, a judge announced, amid surging global sympathy for their case.

A verdict on the Pussy Riot women will be announced on August 17th, Judge Marina Syrova said yesterday at Moscow’s Khamovnichesky Court.

Prosecutors want the women jailed for three years for hooliganism following their one-minute punk protest against Vladimir Putin at the altar of Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February. Mr Putin, who returned to the presidency in March, has said the women should be treated leniently, but the defence team are not convinced they will escape lightly.

“I am waiting for a guilty verdict,” Yekaterina Samutsevich, one of the accused, told the court yesterday.

Ms Samutsevich and her co-defendants, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who are all in their 20s, launched blistering critiques of Russia’s political system when invited to make their final pleas yesterday.

“How is it that our performance has grown into such enormous trouble? In a healthy society that would not be possible.” said Alyokhina, who sounded determined as she read her speech from inside a wooden and perspex cage, surrounded by prison guards and a Rottweiler dog.

In her address, Tolokonnikova drew parallels with the show trials of the 1930s under dictator Josef Stalin.

Their trial was a political order that sprang from an authoritarian political system, she said.

“Who would have thought that we have not learned from the Stalinist terror when the techniques of the inquisition reigned in the government organs and the court,” she said in a clear and ringing voice, citing Soviet dissidents such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn, author of The Gulag Archipelago.

Samutsevich’s speech, which she read quickly, with head bowed over her notes, aimed at the links between the Russian government and the Orthodox Church. Russia was a secular state, she said, and the overlap between the the authorities and the Russian Orthodox Church must stop.

The group have said their cathedral protest was inspired by an endorsement of Mr Putin from the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, patriarch Kirill, in February.

Watching journalists and the defence team burst into applause after each speech, prompting reprimands from Judge Syrova, who at one point said the court was not a theatre.

In her remarks, Tolokonnikova acknowledged support from Madonna, after the American singer said she was praying for Pussy Riot’s release.

Performing in Moscow on Tuesday, Madonna revealed to cheering crowds that she had ‘Pussy Riot’ scrawled on her bare back, and briefly donned a balaclava, the group’s trademark headgear.

Artist Yoko Ono became the group’s latest celebrity backer yesterday, tweeting: “Mr Putin, you are a wise man and dont [sic] need to fight with musicians and their friends”. Performers from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Franz Ferdinand have also come out for the group.

Politicians from one of Russia’s closest European allies are also pressing the women’s case.

A cross-party group of 121 members of the German Bundestag has written to Russia’s ambassador in Berlin, criticising the band’s five-month detention and the prospect of year-long jail terms as “draconian”, “disproportionate” and in contradiction to freedom of expression.

“In a secular and pluralistic state peaceful art events, even if they may be perceived as provocative should not lead to charges of committing serious crimes and long prison terms,” stated the letter, published by Spiegel magazine.

Shortly after the trial wrapped up yesterday, Mark Feygin, a lawyer for the group, announced a “world rally” to free Pussy Riot on August 17th, timed to start one hour ahead of Judge Syrova’s verdict.

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