The husband of one of the jailed Pussy Riot punk band members — who have been sentenced to two years in prison over a protest performance inside a Russian Orthodox cathedral in Moscow — says he's not surprised at their punishment, in light of the Russian government's reputation for cracking down on dissent.

"We can't say we're really outraged by this particular sentence, because we're political activists and we've been doing political acts and activism in Russia for many years now, fighting [President Vladimir] Putin's regime," Pyoter Verzilov told CBC News from Moscow on Saturday.

"This is completely in line with what the government has been doing for the last several years. They will continue to crush dissent in Russia and will continue to make things harder for people who criticize the government in any way."

Verzilov's wife, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, was found guilty of "hooliganism" and inciting religious hatred. She was convicted along with fellow band members Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich. The trio was sentenced on the same day by a Moscow judge.

'This is completely in line with what the government has been doing for the last several years.'—Pyoter Verzilov

Verzilov has Canadian citizenship and his wife has permanent resident status in Canada, he said. The couple has a four-year-old daughter.

Verzilov told CBC Radio's Day 6 that he plans to remain in Russia to continue the fight against "medieval trials."

The jail time was handed down for a now-famous stunt at Russia's main cathedral last February. Five balaclava-wearing women high-kick and whisper "Holy Mother, Drive Putin Away" during a 41-second performance, before being interrupted by guards.

Two top clerics said Saturday that the Russian Orthodox Church has forgiven the band members.

Band forgiven 'from the very start'

Tikhon Shevkunov, who heads Moscow's Sretensky Monastery and is widely believed to be the Russian president's spiritual counsellor, said on state television Saturday that his church forgave the singers right after their "punk prayer."

"The church has been sometimes accused of not forgiving them," the bearded and bespectacled cleric said. "We did forgive them from the very start. But such actions should be cut short by society and authorities."

Archpriest Maxim Kozlov agreed, but he also said on state TV that his church hopes the young women and their supporters change their ways.

"We are simply praying and hoping that these young women and all these people shouting in front of the court building, committing sacrilegious acts not only in Russia but in other countries, realize that their acts are awful," he said. "And despite this the church is asking for mercy within the limits of law."

Both clerics supported the court's decision to prosecute Pussy Riot, despite an international outcry that called it unfair and opponents denouncing the sentences as disproportionate.

The Pussy Riot case has underlined the vast influence of the Russian Orthodox Church. Although church and state are formally separate, the church identifies itself as the heart of Russian national identity and critics say its strength effectively makes it a quasi-state entity.

Some Orthodox groups and many believers had urged strong punishment for an action they consider blasphemous.

The head of the church, Patriarch Kirill, has made no secret of his strong support for Putin, praising his leadership as "God's miracle," and he described the punk performance as part of an assault by "enemy forces" on the church.

The Orthodox Church said in a statement after Friday's verdict that the band's stunt was a "sacrilege" and a "reflection of rude animosity toward millions of people and their feelings." It also asked the authorities to "show clemency toward the convicted in the hope that they will refrain from new sacrilegious actions."

With files from The Associated Press