Tuesday 19 November 2019

Video: Wave of anger as court jails Putin's punk critics Pussy Riot for two years

Pussy
Riot members
Samutsevich,
Alekhina and
Tolokonnikov
await
sentencing
yesterday.
Pussy Riot members Samutsevich, Alekhina and Tolokonnikov await sentencing yesterday.

Tom Parfitt in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin faced international condemnation yesterday when three young women from opposition feminist group Pussy Riot were jailed for two years for performing a 40-second "punk prayer" protesting against the Russian president.

Cries of "Shame!" rang out at the city's Khamovnichesky Court as judge Marina Syrova handed down the sentence, saying the women's protest in Moscow's main cathedral was blasphemous and "deeply insulting and disrespectful to Orthodox believers".

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (22), a philosophy graduate, Maria Alekhina (24), a charity worker and environmental activist, and Yekaterina Samutsevich (30), a computer programming graduate, were arrested on charges of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" in March.

Inquisition

Critics said the Kremlin had ensured a jail term as a chilling warning against political dissenters, and as Mr Putin's personal reprisal for the group's performance in Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February when they shouted "Mother of God, drive out Putin!" in front of the altar.

The group had apologised to believers during the trial for any offence caused and said their prayer -- during which they did a can-can in bright clothes and balaclavas -- was a political protest against the church's support for the former KGB officer's rule.

Speaking outside court after the hearing, opposition leader Alexei Navalny (35) said the verdict was "written by Putin" and was his "personal revenge".

"For all of us, even for those of us who didn't like this protest (in the cathedral), and I'm one of them, this was a demonstrative destruction of justice," he said. "This was the Inquisition."

Petr Verzilov (25), the husband of Ms Tolokonnikova, who has a four-year-old daughter with the activist, said: "The only thing that can save my wife and our child is revolution."

International condemnation was quick to follow. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said: "The United States is disappointed by the verdict, including the disproportionate sentences that were granted."

Baroness Ashton, the EU foreign affairs chief, said she was "deeply disappointed" with the verdict.

Celebrities including Paul McCartney and Madonna had already criticised the prosecution. They were followed by demonstrations and gatherings in support of the women in at least 40 cities worldwide yesterday, including Dublin, New York and London.

Riot police

In Moscow, 2,000 people gathered near the court, most of them Pussy Riot supporters, with lesser numbers of activists opposing the group.

Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and leading opposition activist Sergei Udaltsov were among several dozen people arrested by riot police, who erected a cordon on streets around the building.

The court's room number seven was packed, and Judge Syrova read her verdict for three hours, repeating witness testimony that said the women had performed "devilish dances" and committed blasphemy.

The defendants smiled and chatted to each other as they listened, wearing handcuffs inside the dock, a glass and steel box known as "the aquarium".

The reading of the verdict was unsettled for a few moments by loud punk music coming through the open windows, with a young woman's voice screaming: "Putin is lighting the fires of revolution! He is bored and scared with the people in silence!"

It later transpired that other members of Pussy Riot had launched a brief protest in an apartment opposite the court.

All three women were sentenced to two years in a prison colony. Their legal team promised to appeal. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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