Pussy Riot Member Freed, Two Bandmates Remain in Moscow Prison
Pussy Riot member Maria Alekhina, center, is on a hunger strike (Getty Images)

A Moscow judge sentenced three members of the provocative punk band Pussy Riot to two years in prison each on hooliganism charges on Friday following a trial that has drawn international outrage as an emblem of Russia's intolerance of dissent. The women -- Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich -- remained calm after the judge announced the sentence. Someone in the courtroom shouted "Shame!"

The Guardian reports that their sentences are to begin on the day of their arrests (March 3: Tolokonnikova and Alekhina; March 16: Samutsevich).

The trial sparked a wave of protests around the world in support of the feminist rockers, who have been dubbed prisoners of conscience by international rights group. Hundreds of Pussy Riot supporters chanted "Russia without Putin!" amid a heavy police presence outside the courtroom, and several opposition leaders were detained.

The three were arrested in March after a guerrilla performance in Moscow's main cathedral, high-kicking and dancing while singing a "punk prayer" pleading the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Vladimir Putin, who was elected to a third new term as Russia's president two weeks later. Watch It:

Pussy Riot's "Punk Prayer"


Punk Prayer:
"Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away"

(Chorus)
Virgin Mary, Mother of God, put Putin away
Put Putin away, put Putin away

Black robe, golden epaulettes
All parishioners crawl to bow
The phantom of liberty is in heaven
Gay-pride sent to Siberia in chains

The head of the KGB, their chief saint,
Leads protesters to prison under escort
In order not to offend His Holiness
Women must give birth and love

Shit, shit, the Lord's shit!
Shit, shit, the Lord's shit!

(Chorus)
Virgin Mary, Mother of God, become a feminist
Become a feminist, become a feminist

The Church's praise of rotten dictators
The cross-bearer procession of black limousines
A teacher-preacher will meet you at school
Go to class - bring him money!

Patriarch Gundyaev believes in Putin
Bitch, better believe in God instead
The belt of the Virgin can't replace mass-meetings
Mary, Mother of God, is with us in protest!

(Chorus)
Virgin Mary, Mother of God, put Putin away
Put Putin away, put Putin away

Via FreePussyRiot.org


Judge Marina Syrova said in her verdict that the three band members "committed hooliganism driven by religious hatred" and offended religious believers. She rejected the women's arguments that they were protesting the Orthodox Church's support for Putin and didn't want to hurt the feelings of believers.

"The Pussy Riot singers colluded under unestablished circumstances, for the purpose of offensively violating public peace in a sign of flagrant disrespect for citizens," the court said. "The women were motivated by religious enmity and hatred, and acted provocatively and in an insulting manner inside a religious building in the presence of a large number of believers."

Tolokonnikova, Alekhina, and Samutsevich stood in handcuffs in a glass cage in the courtroom for three hours as the judge read the verdict. They smiled sadly at the testimony of prosecution witnesses accusing them of sacrilege and "devilish dances" in church.

The charges carried the maximum penalty of seven years in prison, although prosecutors had asked for a three-year sentence.

Putin himself had said the band members shouldn't be judged too harshly, drawing expectations that the band members could be sentenced to the time they already have spent in custody and freed in courtroom. Skeptics had warned, however, that a mild sentence would look as if Putin was bowing to public pressure - something he has clearly resented throughout his 12-year rule.

On the street outside, the courtroom, 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.

Amnesty International strongly condemned the court's ruling, calling it a "bitter blow" for freedom of expression in Russia.

The Pussy Riot case already has inflicted bruising damage to 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 has underlined 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 had urged strong punishment for an action they consider blasphemous.

The head of the church, Patriarch Kirill, has made no secret of his strong support for Putin, even praising his presidential terms as "God's miracle" and has described the performance as part of an assault by "enemy forces" on the church.

Kirill avoided talking to the media as he was leaving Warsaw's Royal Castle following a ceremony in which he and the head of Poland's Catholic Church called for mutual forgiveness and reconciliation. Microphones were set up for statements in the castle yard and reporters were brought to the site, but Kirill went straight to his car.

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 being. In the Russian capital activists put the band's trademark ski masks, or balaclavas, on several statues across town.

Small, but raucous protests were held in a few dozen cities. A few dozen people came out in Barcelona, Spain, a couple hundred in Paris, and a handful in Washington.

"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."