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Pussy Riot punk group members face seven years in prison

posted 30 Jul 2012, 09:51 by Mpelembe   [ updated 30 Jul 2012, 09:51 ]

Three members of the punk protest group Pussy Riot face seven years in prison for protest against Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA  (PUSSY RIOT GROUP HANDOUT) - 
Three young women who staged an irreverent punk-rock protest against Vladimir Putin on the altar of Russia's main cathedral go on trial on Monday (July 30) in a case seen as a test of the president's tolerance of dissent.
The trial of the activists - from the band "Pussy Riot" - should show how much power the resurgent Russian Orthodox Church and its head, Patriarch Kirill, wields. He has called the "punk prayer" blasphemy, casting it as part of a sinister anti-clerical campaign.


Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, were jailed in late February after taking to the altar of Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral and belting out a song calling on the Virgin Mary to "throw Putin out!". The plight of the three women, two of whom have young children, has made headlines in the West.


Governments and rights groups, as well as musicians such as Sting and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, have expressed concern about the trial, reflecting doubts that Putin - who is serving his third presidential term and could be in power until 2024 - will become more tolerant of dissenting voices.


Symbolically, the trial takes place in the same Moscow courthouse where jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was found guilty of stealing his own oil in a trial in 2010 that many Western politicians said looked like a Kremlin attempt to keep a man it saw as a political threat behind bars.


Charged with hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility, the women face up to seven years in prison if convicted - a punishment rights groups say would be grossly disproportionate no matter what the law says.


Pussy Riot, who say they were inspired by the 90s-era feminist riot grrrl movement and U.S. punk band Bikini Kill, burst onto the Russian scene last winter with angry lyrics and envelope-pushing performances, including one on Red Square, that went viral on the Internet.


The collective, who say they average 25 years of age, see themselves as the avant-guard of a disenchanted generation that is looking for creative ways to show its dissatisfaction with Putin's 12-year dominance of the political landscape.


The performance, a protest against the church's support for Putin, was part of a lively protest movement that at its peak saw 100,000 people turn out for rallies in Moscow, some of the largest in Russia since the demise of the USSR.


The stunt was designed to highlight the close relationship between the church and former KGB officer Putin, then prime minister, whose campaign to return to the presidency in a March 4 election was backed clearly, if informally, by Patriarch Kirill.


Vladimir Putin spoke about Pussy Riot during his meeting with journalists in March.

"Did they sing well? If they violated the order acceptable in the church then I'm offering my apologies to all believers and everyone in the clergy on their behalf if they couldn't do it themselves. I hope it will not be repeated again," Putin said.


The all-girl group has no lead singer, and, in order that anyone may join, its members don multi-coloured balaclavas, which have become its trademark. They numbered five when they formed in November but later expanded to 10 members, though there have been no performances in Russia since their bandmates' arrest.

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