Pussy Riot rockers get jail sentence in Russia for 'hooliganism' after protest
Three members of the Russian feminist punk group Pussy Riot were sentenced on Friday to two years in jail, months after they were arrested during a surprise performance at Moscow's main cathedral as part of a protest against President Vladimir Putin.
The case has generated worldwide interest, due partially due to expressions of support by music celebrities such as Paul McCartney, Sting, Bjork, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Madonna. The pop queen wore a shirt bearing the band's name at one of her recent concerts in Moscow.
A judge said at Friday's sentencing that the three rockers - Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alekhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30 - were guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, adding that they had deliberately offended Russian Orthodox believers when they stormed the altar of the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow in February, Reuters reported.
The band members wore bright ski masks, short skirts and tights, which is their trademark look, at their demonstration, during which they asked the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin, who was re-elected a month later in March for a third term. The group says they were protesting against Putin's close ties with the church.
Tolokonnikova had said in court earlier this month that the band's "punk prayer" in the church was a political statement and not an expression of hate against Orthodox Christians.
"We sang 'Black habit, gold shoulder straps' about the fusion of KGB and the church," Rolling Stone quoted her as saying. "Our goal was political protest in artistic form. There was no hate, not a drop."
The women, who have already spent five months behind bars since their February arrest, giggled as the judge read out the sentences, Reuters added.
On Thursday, McCartney had posted a photo message on his Twitter page in support of the group.
"I would like you to know that I very much hope the Russian authorities would support the principle of free speech for all their citizens and not feel that they have to punish you for your protest," the former Beatles member wrote. "Many people in the civilized world are allowed to voice their opinions and as long as they do not hurt anyone in doing so, I believe this is the best way forward for all societies.",/p>
"I hope you can stay strong and believe 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," he wrote.
In addition to support from singers and musicians, "Clueless" actress and vegan animal activist Alicia Silverstone recently made a different plea, directly to to the Russian president, with regard to the case.
"Dear President Putin," she wrote in a letter provided by PETA UK. "I have been following the trial involving three members of the band Pussy Riot. As a vegan myself, I was deeply concerned to learn that one of the women, Maria Alekhina, who is a vegan, reportedly collapsed from hunger during a court session. I respectfully request you to ensure that vegan meals are available to Ms. Alekhina - and all prisoners."
"Regardless of the trial and its outcome, I'm sure you can agree that everyone has the right to show compassion and refrain from harming animals by being vegan," she said. "May I please have your assurance that Ms. Alekhina will have access to vegan foods? Thank you for your time and attention to this urgent matter."