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Pussy Riot jailed for two years over pro-gay protest

Human rights campaigners slam sentencing of Russian punk band, calling it a 'bitter blow for freedom of expression'
Pussy Riot jailed for two years for pro-gay Putin protest in Moscow Orthodox cathedral

Three members of Russian female punk band Pussy Riot have been jailed for two years for staging an anti-Putin protest which spoke out for gay rights.

Maria Alekhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were found guilty today (17 August) of 'hooliganism on the grounds of religious hatred' for singing a protest song in Moscow’s central Orthodox cathedral.

The performance of 'Virgin Mary redeem us of Putin' included a reference to the country's persecuted LGBT community with the line 'Gay pride sent to Siberia in chains' and was staged on 21 February to rally against the president ahead of the country's elections in March.

Human rights campaigners have condemned the verdict, with Amnesty International calling it a 'bitter blow for freedom of expression'.

The group claim the trial is politically motivated and the women are prisoners of conscience.

Director of Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia Programme, John Dalhuisen, said: 'The Russian authorities should overturn the court ruling and release the members of Pussy Riot immediately and unconditionally.

'What Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samutsevich did was calculated to shock and did shock many. But in sentencing them to two years’ imprisonment, Russia has set the limits of freedom of expression in the wrong place.

'A number of measures restricting the freedom of expression and association have been introduced in response to the wave of protest that accompanied the recent parliamentary and presidential elections. This trial is another example of the Kremlin’s attempts to discourage and delegitimise dissent.  It is likely to backfire.'

Celebrities and musicians including Madonna, the Scissor Sisters and Paul McCartney have also shown their support for Pussy Riot.

However, Russian gay rights activist Nikolai Alekseev believes international calls for the band's release has actually resulted in a tougher sentence.

'The more publicity and the more famous people from abroad who supported Pussy Riot, the less chance there was for their acquittal today,’ Alekseev told Gay Star News.

‘It just had the opposite effect and made the Russian political system more angry. They see it as a direct attack on the state and the church from abroad, trying to impose its own cultural values on Russia.’

Prosecutors were originally seeking a three-year sentence for the band.

During the demonstration in Christ the Saviour Cathedral, several members of Pussy Riot covered their faces with balaclavas.

The song called on Virgin Mary to become a feminist and banish Vladimir Putin. It also criticized the dedication and support shown to Putin by some representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Russian authorities subsequently arrested Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova on 4 March, and Ekaterina Samutsevich on 15 March, claiming they were the masked singers.

One of the women, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, admitted to being a member of the larger Pussy Riot group and taking part in the protest, while the other two denied any involvement in the cathedral protest.

Watch the protest video here:

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