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Protests in US as Pussy Riot members are jailed in Russia

New York/Washington, Aug 18 : Supporters of Russian punk band Pussy Riot protested in New York and Washington on Friday  as a Moscow judge sentenced three of its members to two years in prison on
India TV News Desk August 18, 2012 15:01 IST
India TV News Desk
New York/Washington, Aug 18 : Supporters of Russian punk band Pussy Riot protested in New York and Washington on Friday  as a Moscow judge sentenced three of its members to two years in prison on hooliganism charges.



About 40 demonstrators gathered in front of the Russian consulate in New York, with some wearing Pussy Riot's trademark colorful balaclavas.

“I'm here to show solidarity with the three women that were sentenced to two years in prison today for standing up against the patriarchal system not only in Russia but in all of Western culture,” said protester Rebekah Shiller, who was later arrested.

Demonstrators also converged on the Russian embassy in Washington, DC.

Several similar protests were held in cities across the globe.

Governments including the United States, Britain, France and Germany joined the chorus on Friday, denouncing the sentences as disproportionate.

President Barack Obama was disappointed by the decision, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

“While we understand the group's behavior was offensive to some, we have serious concerns about the way that these young women have been treated by the Russian judicial system,” he said.

The three women - Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alekhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30 - who have been in jail for more than five months because of a guerrilla performance denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main cathedral, were convicted on charges of hooliganism driven by religious hatred.

The trial has been seen as a symbol of Russia's intolerance of dissent, especially under the reign of Putin, and a series of colorful and raucous protests have attracted worldwide attention to the feminist rockers' fate.

The trial inspired a wave of small but raucous protests across Europe and North America in support of the feminist rockers, who have been dubbed prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.

“The whole trial was politically biased,” said protestor Roman Tirapolsky.

“It was politically charged and they were just being punished for being anti-government, anti-Putin really.”

The three women were arrested in March after a guerrilla performance in Moscow's main cathedral where they high-kicked and danced while singing a ‘punk prayer' pleading with the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Vladimir Putin, who was elected to a third term as Russia's president two weeks later.

Judge Marina Syrova said in her verdict that the band members “committed hooliganism driven by religious hatred.”

She rejected the women's arguments that they were protesting the Orthodox Church's support for Putin and didn't intend to offend religious believers.

“It is all so extreme, said Ellina Graypel, another protestor in New York.

“People shouldn't be arrested for voicing their opinion, especially in country of freedom. It is devastating and it is very sad.”

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alekhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, stood in handcuffs in a glass cage in the courtroom for three hours as the judge read the verdict.

They smiled sadly as the judge recounted testimony of prosecution witnesses accusing them of sacrilege and “devilish dances” in church and said that their feminist views made them hate the Orthodox religion.

The Orthodox Church said in a statement after the verdict that the band's stunt was a “sacrilege” and a “reflection of rude animosity toward millions of people and their feelings.”

It also asked the authorities to “show clemency toward the convicted in the hope that they will refrain from new sacrilegious actions.”

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 unauthorised demonstrations by 150 times to 300,000 rubles (about 9,000 US dollars).

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