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You're reading: Photo evoking Pussy Riot pulled from IKEA Russia website

MOSCOW, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Furniture firm IKEA has removed a photograph from its Russian website of people in colourful ski masks like those worn by punk band Pussy Riot, three of whose members were jailed after staging a protest against Vladimir Putin in a church.

The picture, which showed four people in the masks sitting
on IKEA furniture, had been posted on a section of the site which displays
photographs of customers posing at stores.

A notice on the website confirmed the image had been removed
and said: “IKEA is a commercial organisation that conducts its activity
outside of politics and religion.”

“We cannot allow our advertising project to be used as
a platform for campaigning of any kind,” it added.

Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and
Yekaterina Samutsevich were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious
hatred after belting out a song criticising Putin, then prime minister and now
president, in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February. They were
handed two-year jail terms.

The brightly coloured balaclava masks they wore during the
protest have become the band’s trademark. A large opposition protest in Moscow
last weekend featured big balloons with the mask design and the words
“Free Pussy Riot”.

The Russian Orthodox Church head has called the cathedral
protest part of a campaign aimed at curbing the resurgence of Russia’s main
faith. Foreign governments, rights groups and musicians have criticised the
women’s sentences as excessive.

Russia has dismissed the criticism from abroad, which the
Foreign Ministry said pointed to a “clash of civilisations”. Putin
has said the state is obliged to protect the feelings of the faithful.

The photograph, which appeared to have been submitted by a
person with the last name Starovoitova in the Ural Mountains city of
Yekaterinburg, had appeared on a competition section of the IKEA site where
visitors were invited to vote for their favourite shot.

The picture had received 1,431 votes before it was taken
down – more than any other posted in the same week.

A representative of IKEA in Russia confirmed on Sunday the
notice had replaced a photograph of people wearing ski masks and declined to
comment further immediately, asking for a written request which would be answered
on Monday.

IKEA has invested about 2.5 billion euros ($3.25 billion) in
Russia since 2000, building stores that anchor malls on the outskirts of big
cities. When it posted record profits for the fiscal 2010/11 year in December,
the company said some of its biggest sales gains were in Russia.

In 2009 IKEA had threatened to halt further expansion in the
country, citing corruption and red tape, but last November it said it was
looking to at least double its three-store footprint in Moscow and refurbish its
14 MEGA malls.

A Moscow court is to begin hearing an appeal against the
convictions and sentences in the Pussy Riot trial on Oct. 1.

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