BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — Hundreds of protesters, shouting "Free Pussy Riot," gathered outside a Moscow court where judge Marina Syrova handed down a guilty verdict to three members of the punk band — Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29 —  The New York Times reports.

The three were found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after their performance of an anti-Putin song in a Russian Orthodox Cathedral in February. The song, which called on the Virgin Mary to oust Russian President Vladimir Putin, would later become part of a music video that shows security guards trying to stop the performance.

Today, the judge sentenced the three to two-year jail terms, apparently the minimum sentence for such an offence, but which human rights observers condemned as harsh.

"The women have been in jail since March and a chorus of supporters, including some of the music world’s biggest stars, like Sting, Madonna and Paul McCartney, has demanded their immediate release. Rallies in support of the women were held in dozens of cities around the world on Friday," The New York Times says.

Outside the Moscow court, eyewitnesses have been tweeting about the various means people are employing to register their disgust over the verdict and sentencing and the arrests that have ensued. One Pussy Riot supporter was reportedly chased into the Turkish embassy.

In the wake of the sentencing, the defiant band released a new single, "Putin Lights Up the Fires."

Condemnation of the sentence followed swiftly, The Guardian reports.

UK Foreign Minister Alistair Burt issued the following statement: "I am deeply concerned by the sentencing of three members of the band Pussy Riot, which can only be considered a disproportionate response to an expression of political belief.

"Reports about conditions of the detention of the women, and the conduct of the trial, are also concerning.

"The Government is committed to a relationship with Russia in which we can discuss differences frankly and constructively. We have repeatedly called on the Russian authorities to protect human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, and apply the rule of law in a non-discriminatory and proportionate way.

"Today's verdict calls into question Russia's commitment to protect these fundamental rights and freedoms," Burt concludes. 

Amnesty International also deemed the sentence a "bitter blow for freedom of expression," adding that “the Russian authorities will stop at no end to suppress dissent and stifle civil society.”

Human Rights Watch, through its Europe and Central Asia director, Hugh Williamson, said, "the charges and verdict against the Pussy Riot band members distort both the facts and the law . . . These women should never have been charged with a hate crime and should be released immediately."

Check out Yekaterina Samutsevich's closing statement at the trial.

Fellow band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova also made a closing statement:

“To my deepest regret, this mock trial is close to the standards of the Stalinist troikas. Who is to blame for the performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and for our being put on trial after the concert? The authoritarian political system is to blame. What Pussy Riot does is oppositional art or politics.

“In any event, it is a form of civil action in circumstances where basic human rights, civil and political freedoms are suppressed.” 


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