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You're reading: One Pussy Riot member freed on appeal by Russian court

MOSCOW - A member of punk band Pussy Riot was freed on appeal on Wednesday but a Moscow court upheld prison sentences for two others imposed over a raucous cathedral protest against Vladimir Putin, who said they had got the jail terms they deserved.

Moscow City Court confirmed the two-year prison sentences
handed down to Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina but
suspended the sentence on Yekaterina Samutsevich.

Her lawyer told the court that Samutsevich had not performed
the ‘punk protest’ near the altar of Moscow’s Christ the Saviour
Cathedral in February because she had been stopped and led away
before it took place.

In emotional statements from a courtroom cage during the
appeal hearing, women from the band had earlier said they had
not meant to offend the faithful with their actions but
criticised the courts and the Kremlin chief.

“Putin is doing everything for the development of civil war
in this country,” said Tolokonnikova, raising her voice to try
to drown out a judge who tried to interrupt her as she began to
talk about Putin.

Tolokonnikova, 22, Alyokhina, 24, and Samutsevich, 30, were
convicted in August of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred
for a “punk prayer” imploring the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of
Putin, and sentenced to two years in jail.

The case sparked an international outcry, with Western
governments and pop star Madonna condemning the sentences as
disproportionate, a view not widely shared in Russia where
public opinion was shocked by the protest.

In an interview aired on Sunday, Putin defended the
sentences: “It is right that they were arrested and it was right
that the court took this decision because you cannot undermine
the fundamental morals and values to destroy the country”.

At the appeal hearing, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina told the
court their protest was purely political.

“We did not want to offend believers,” Alyokhina, 24, told
the court. “We came to the cathedral to speak out against the
merger between spiritual figures and the political elite of our
country.”

Alyokhina said she did not expect the appeal would succeed,
however. “I have lost all hope in our courts,” she said.

Defence lawyer Mark Feigin asked the court to reverse the
verdict and censure Putin.

“No official … is permitted to interfere with the court,”
he said angrily.

REPENTANCE

Relatives and lawyers for the trio complained of political
interference in the original trial and said that Putin’s weekend
comments on the case in the interview marking his 60th birthday
had compromised the appeal.

“After Putin’s comments, I don’t think lawyers can do
anything anyway,” Samutsevich’s father, Stanislav, told Reuters
on Tuesday.

The women contend their protest in the cathedral in central
Moscow was an acerbic comment on the close ties between the
Kremlin and Russia’s dominant church, which considers about
two-thirds of the population as its flock.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill had given Putin, then
prime minister, unofficial but clear support in his successful
campaign for a third presidential term, likening Putin’s years
in power to a “miracle of God”.

Kremlin opponents said the jail terms were part of a
clampdown on dissent that has produced restrictive laws and
criminal cases against critics of Putin since he began his
six-year term in May.

“We are in jail for our political convictions,” Alyokhina
said. “Even if our sentences are upheld, we will not be silent.
Even if we are in Mordovia or Siberia, we will not be silent, no
matter how uncomfortable it is for you.”

Tolokonnikova also told the court the group was not
motivated by religious hatred.

“It’s painful for me to hear that I am speaking out against
religion. I have no religious hatred and never have,” she said.

Sympathy for Pussy Riot is limited in Russia, where
Patriarch Kirill has cast the protest as part of a concerted
attack meant to undermine traditional Russian values and curb
the church’s post-Soviet revival.

Parliament is considering legislation stiffening punishment
for offending religious feelings and Putin has warned that such
offences – against Christians, Muslims or other believers in
diverse Russia – could incite violence.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said last month that they
have already served enough time, while the Russian Orthodox
Church has said they should repent if they want forgiveness – a
request they made clear they found inappropriate.

An opinion poll conducted on Sept. 21-24 by the independent
Levada centre found 35 percent of Russians believe the two-year
sentences were appropriate, while 34 percent said they were too
lenient and only 14 percent said they were excessive.

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