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Russian Band Pussy Riot Convicted Of Hooliganism, Get Two Years In Prison
August 17, 2012
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The Russian band Pussy Riot was convicted today of hooliganism, motivated by religious hatred. They were sentenced to two years in prison.

In March, the band put on a short impromptu "concert" in Moscow's main cathedral criticizing Vladimir Putin. At the time, Putin was set to win a third term as President.

Inside the church, they shouted the words of a "punk prayer" asking the Virgin Mary to deliver Russia from Putin.

They said they were protesting Putin's close ties to the Orthodox Church, which is increasingly powerful in Russia.

Three members of the band - Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alekhina and
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova - were arrested and thrown in jail.

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In her verdict, the judge said the women formed the band to commit unlawful acts. Every step was planned and thought out in advance, the judge said.

She said the band's actions were "sacrilegious, blasphemous and broke the church's rules."

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The band has received public support from a number of musicians including Paul McCartney, Madonna, Sting, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bjork.

In a letter, McCartney urged the band to "stay strong."

He said that "I and many others like me who believe in free speech will do everything in our power to support you and the idea of artistic freedom."

Madonna performed in Moscow with "Pussy Riot" painted on her back.

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In response, Russia's Deputy Prime Minister suggested she was a "moralizing slut."

Canadian singer Peaches started a petition on the website Change.org.

In less than a week, she's collected more than 100,000 signatures in support of the band.

Peaches also created a 'Free Pussy Riot' video.



Another Canadian band 'Austra' has also put up a video dedicated to the band.

A couple of thousand people protested outside the courthouse, chanting "Freedom to Political Prisoners."

Police detained several of them including former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, who is now the head of the Other Russia - an anti-Putin political coalition.

Protests took place around the world, in more than three dozen cities including London, Paris, Berlin, New York, Tel Aviv, Sydney and Toronto.

Even former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has said the case should never have gone to trial, calling it "a completely pointless undertaking."

In many ways, the trial became a symbol of Putin's crackdown on dissent.

Putin himself has said the women did "nothing good" but he hoped the sentence wouldn't be "too severe."

Critics don't believe Putin really meant that. And they point to his government's record.

Recently, the Russian parliament has rushed through laws increasing fines for protesters and tightening controls on the Internet, which is used to set up protests.

Meantime, an independent poll suggests only 6% of Russians have sympathy for the band. 51% said they found nothing good about them.

In her closing statement, Tolokonnikova told the court: "...we never were, and are not, motivated by religious hatred... there is nothing left for our accusers to do other than to draw on false witnesses."

And their lawyer had tweeted before the verdict: "They'll be convicted. No use harboring any illusions."

There's also an apparent Canadian link to the group, involving Tolokonnikova, which has sparked some calls for Canada to intervene.

You can read more about that here.

And back in May, CBC Radio show Day 6 with Brent Bambury interviewed Tolokonnikova's husband about her apparent ties to Canada.

Listen here.

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