Russia Frees One Punk Rocker, Keeps Two in Jail

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Members of the female punk band “Pussy Riot” (L-R) Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass-walled cage before a court hearing in Moscow, October 10, 2012.

BY JAMES BROOKE – MOSCOW — As Russian Orthodox believers prayed and sang hymns, a Moscow judge on Wednesday freed one Pussy Riot punk protester but upheld the two-year jail sentences for the other two.

The three women were arrested in February after they slipped into Russia’s largest Orthodox cathedral and performed a lightning, one-minute “punk prayer” imploring the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Vladimir Putin.

Several days later,  Putin won the presidential election – and a six-year term. Before the election, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill had called  Putin’s 12 years ruling Russia “a miracle of God.”


Political, Not Religious

On Wednesday, one of the jailed punkers, Yekaterina Samutsevich, spoke to the court.

“Our act was political, not religious,” she said. “For that reason, there was no crime.” She and the other two musicians said they were protesting the gradual merging of church and state in Russia.

But her lawyer came up with a more persuasive argument. She said that cathedral guards had stopped Samutsevich before she had time to get her guitar out of its case.

Under the new ruling, the other two women, both mothers of small children, will have to stay in jail until their sentences run out – about one year from now. One of them, Maria Alyokhina, vowed in court not to keep quiet, even if she serves her prison sentence in Siberia.

Defense lawyers complained that President Putin influenced the case when he told state television Sunday night that the Pussy Riot women got what they “wanted.”

Outside the court, Karil Fralog agreed, saying, “The president’s words sent a key signal that he is on the side of the Orthodox majority of Russian citizens, that he is our president. Glory to Russia!”

Media Impacts Support

The three women were first convicted in August. Since then, state TV has steadily attacked them. This media barrage seems to be turning public opinion. In a nationwide Levada poll taken two weeks ago, only 14 percent of respondents described the two-year sentences as excessive – about half the level of before.

Outside Russia, support for the group has been strong. Statements of support have come from Madonna, Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney and other musicians.

Outside the Moscow court Wednesday, Yelena Gluzhka was handing out buttons with the trademark ski mask logo of the Pussy Rioters.

She said she was delighted to hear that on Tuesday, the European Parliament placed Pussy Riot among its finalists for the European Union’s annual Sakharov human rights prize.

“This nomination shows what kind of country we live in,” Gluzhka said, adding that Western Europeans do not see the Pussy Riot protesters as guilty of a crime.

In Moscow, Russia’s parliament, or duma, is taking steps in a different direction. It is preparing a law that would stipulate jail sentences of up to five years for “blasphemy” – defined as including interrupting religious services or desecrating religious symbols.