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Pussy Riot found guilty of hooliganism in stunt against Putin

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Updated: August 17, 2012 11:03AM



MOSCOW — A judge found three members of the provocative punk band Pussy Riot guilty of hooliganism on Friday, in a case that has drawn widespread international condemnation as an emblem of Russia’s intolerance of dissent.

The judge said the three band members “committed hooliganism driven by religious hatred” and offended religious believers. The three were arrested in March after a guerrilla performance in Moscow’s main cathedral calling for the Virgin Mary to protect Russia against Vladimir Putin, who was elected to a new term as Russia’s president two weeks later.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23; Maria Alekhina, 24; and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, face a maximum seven years in prison, although the prosecutors asked for a three-year sentence. They stood in a glass cage in the courtroom, sad smiles sometimes flickering on their lips, as the judge read out the testimony of prosecution witnesses accusing them of sacrilege and “devilish dances” in church.

On the street outside, hundreds of Pussy Riot supporters chanted “Russia without Putin!” amid a heavy police presence. Police rounded up a few dozen protesters, including former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, who is a leading opposition activist, and leftist opposition group leader Sergei Udaltsov.

Judge Marina Syrova was still reading a synopsis of the case, but the sentence could be handed down at any time.

Putin himself has said the band members shouldn’t be judged too harshly, perhaps taking note of a wave of global outrage.

Even if the women are sentenced only to the five months already served, the case has already strongly clouded Russia’s esteem overseas and stoked the resentment of opposition partisans who have turned out in a series of massive rallies since last winter.

It also underlines the vast influence of the Russian Orthodox Church. Although church and state are formally separate, the church identifies itself as the heart of Russian national identity and critics say its strength effectively makes it a quasi-state entity. Some Orthodox groups and many believers are urging strong punishment for an action they consider blasphemous.

Celebrities including Paul McCartney, Madonna and Bjork have called for the band members to be freed, and other protests timed to just before the verdict or soon afterward were planned in more than three dozen cities worldwide. In the Russian capital activists put the band’s trademark ski masks, or balaclavas, on several statues across town.

“This is all nonsense,” said Boris Akunin, one of Russia’s best known authors. “I can’t believe that in the 21st century a judge in a secular court is talking about devilish movements. I can’t believe that a government official is quoting medieval church councils.”

Before Friday’s proceedings began, defense lawyer Nikolai Polozov said the women “hope for an acquittal but they are ready to continue to fight.”

The case comes in the wake of several recently passed laws cracking down on opposition, including one that raised the fine for taking part in an unauthorized demonstrations by 150 times to 300,000 rubles (about $9,000).

Another measure requires non-government organizations that both engage in vaguely defined political activity and receive funding from abroad to register as “foreign agents.”



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