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Pussy Riot members sentenced to 2 years in prison; locals react

August 17, 2012 12:18:39 AM PDT
Three members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot have been sentenced to two years in prison on hooliganism charges.

The case was seen around the world as a sign of Russia's intolerance of dissent and inspired a wave of small but raucous protests across Europe and North America in support of the feminist rockers.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alekhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, 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.

Tolokonnikova, Alekhina and Samutsevich stood in handcuffs in a glass cage in the courtroom for three hours as Judge Marina Syrova read the verdict. They smiled sadly as the judge recounted testimony of prosecution witnesses accusing them of sacrilege and "devilish dances" in church.

Syrova said in her verdict that the women "committed hooliganism driven by religious hatred." She rejected the arguments that they were protesting the Orthodox Church's support for Putin and didn't intend to offend religious believers.

Someone in the courtroom shouted "Shame!" but the women remained calm and kept smiling through the hearing. They waved at relatives from behind the glass.

Hundreds of Pussy Riot supporters waiting outside the Moscow courtroom chanted "down with the police state" when the sentence was announced. Dozens were detained, including several opposition leaders.

Putin himself had said the band members shouldn't be judged too harshly, creating expectations that they could be sentenced to time served and freed in the courtroom. This, however, would have left the impression that Putin had bowed to public pressure, something he has resisted throughout his 12 years in power.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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