Verdict In Russian Punk Trial Set For Aug. 17

A Moscow judge wrapped up the trial of three feminist punk rockers on Wednesday and said she would issue a verdict in the controversial case next week.

Prosecutors have called for three-year prison sentences for the Pussy Riot band members, who have already been in custody for five months after giving an impromptu performance in Moscow’s main cathedral to call for an end to Vladimir Putin’s rule.

The three women – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23; Maria Alekhina, 24; and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29 – high-kicked and danced as they belted out their “punk prayer” in Christ the Savior Cathedral in February.

Photo: AP Photo
Yekaterina Samutsevich, left, a member of feminist punk group Pussy Riot is escorted to a court room in Moscow.

They were charged with hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years.

Tolokonnikova, dressed in jeans and a blue T-shirt, said in a trembling voice, looking at prosecutors: “We have more freedom than all those people from the prosecution in front of me – because we can say what we want.”

Their case has sharply divided Russia. Some believers felt offended, while other Russians have been angered by what they see as repressive treatment for the expression of political beliefs. Orthodox leaders have ignored calls to pardon the women and urge the court to dismiss the case.

The trial has been seen as part of the widening government crackdown on dissent that followed Putin’s election in March to a third presidential term.

“With every day an increasing number of people start to realize that if the political machine turned against girls who performed in the Christ the Savior Cathedral for 40 seconds, this means only that this political system is scared of the truth and the sincerity that we bring,” Tolokonnikova said.

Defense lawyers said that activists around the world will show their solidarity with the band by holding a global protest on Aug. 17, the day Judge Marina Syrova is to issue her verdict. .

Amnesty International has called the women prisoners of conscience. Musicians including Madonna, The Who’s Pete Townshend and Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys have urged their release.

During Tuesday’s gig in Moscow, Madonna had the words “Pussy Riot” written on her bare back and also donned a balaclava – symbol of the band. The punk rockers perform in bright-colored homemade ski masks.