Pussy Riot Could Be Freed October 1, As Russian Prime Minister Medvedev Calls For Release
Pussy Riot Could Be Freed October 1, As Russian Prime Minister Medvedev Calls For Release

UPDATE 11:00 a.m.: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 three members of Pussy Riot, a Russian punk band/art collective, today were found guilty of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred."

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Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samucevich, were imprisoned for staging a brief public protest by performing the "Punk Prayer" at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ Our Saviour in February against Vladimir Putin. The three called for the Virgin Mary to protect Russia against Vladimir Putin, who was elected to a new term as Russia's president two weeks later.

The judge said the three band members "committed hooliganism driven by religious hatred" and offended religious believers.

The women faced up to seven years in prison though prosecuters are seeking a three year sentence. And Putin himself has said he hopes the sentencing is not "too severe."

The three women 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 three women remained calm after the judge announced the sentence. Someone in the courtroom shouted "Shame!"

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

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The case has attracted international attention as an emblem of Russia's intolerance of dissent. 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.

Rallies supporting the women have been held far and wide with support coming from across the globe from organizations like Amnesty International to 121 members of the German Bundestag to such prominent musicians as Sir Paul McCartney, Madonna, Bjork, The Beastie Boys' Ad-Rock and many others.

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."

Since the verdict was announced, Police have rounded up pro-Pussy Riot protesters, including former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, and leftist opposition group leader Sergei Udaltsov.

Hundreds of Pussy Riot supporters had filled a narrow street where the court is located, chanting "Russia without Putin!" amid heavy police presence.

A.P.'s Nataliya Vailyeva, Lynn Berry, Jim Heintz and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

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