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Pussy Riot verdict looms: Prosecution wants 3 yrs

Published time: August 07, 2012 09:06
Edited time: August 07, 2012 20:13

Members of the Pussy Riot punk band (from left) Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alyokhina (RIA Novosti)

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The prosecution has demanded Russian punk band Pussy Riot be given three years in a minimum security prison for their “punk prayer” inside Moscow’s main cathedral. The trio stands accused of hooliganism, which carries a sentence of up to seven years.

The aggrieved parties who witnessed Pussy Riot’s scandalous concert at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral have agreed with the prosecution.

“In spite of the efforts taken to remove [Pussy Riot] from the sacred areas of the Cathedral, the defendants waved their arms and legs and ran across the…pulpit. They seriously violated public order,” said the prosecutor.

He added that they behaved in such a disrespectful way that they caused offense to believers.

"Blasphemy is the gravest ethical crime. This is a provocation aimed at besmirching the clerical doctrine," said the prosecutor adding this proved the Pussy Riot's actions had been driven by religious hatred and could be classified as "malicious hooliganism".

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Ekaterina Samutsevich maintain their “punk prayer” staged inside Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in February was not driven by negative feelings towards any congregation and say they were merely making a political statement.

The prosecutor disputed these claims, saying that no politicians’ names were mentioned in the main body of the song. He stressed that Putin’s name was mentioned in the chorus merely to give the song some political spin.

“The lyrics ‘Virgin Mary redeem us of Putin!’ broke from the context of the song. The President’s surname was only used to make the act appear politically motivated,” said the prosecutor.

‘Dancing on graves’

­The lawyer for the aggrieved, Elena Pavlova, said that witnesses of Pussy Riot’s act were bitterly offended by the group’s parody of Orthodox rites.

Harking back to the War of 1812, in honor of which the Cathedral was constructed, Pavlova described the act as a “mockery” of the building’s role in commemorating the past.

“They [Pussy Riot] danced on graves,” said Pavlova.

The aggrieved parties’ lawyer also said that the educational institutions at which Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina studied should put measures in place to prevent their students from committing such crimes.

Pussy Riot’s lawyer Violetta Volkova condemned the prosecution’s rhetoric as “embarrassing.”  Volkova went on to stress that it felt like they weren’t in the 20th century, but in the story “Alice in Wonderland”.

Volkova pledged she will take her clients’ case to the European Court of Human Rights because the court is not dealing with the case fairly.

“We weren’t given one opportunity to speak with the defendants. They’re empty words, it’s a lie that we’re allowed to consult each other during the court proceedings. The state prosecution has done everything possible to deprive us of our rights,” Volkova said.

In reponse to earlier accusations of blasphemy, another lawyer for the defense pointed out that Russia’s constitution separates the church from the state and there is no reference for blasphemy in the Criminal Code.

Why is Russia not a theocratic state? If the Constitution admitted God exists, we would understand the church norms penetrating the Criminal Code,” Pussy Riot’s lawyer Mark Feigin said. “I am also a religious person and have been insulted by their act. But this is not an offence which can be called criminal.

Pussy Riot: We are clowns, but we don’t hate

­After a short break, the defendants called for an acquittal and made another attempt to take the proceedings off the religious hatred track.

Every time they are talking about religious hatred, this blows my head off. I demand acquittal. The evidence of my motives is unsubstantial as I did not have such a motive. I DID NOT,” Nadezhda Tolokonnikova told the court. 

Prosecutors say we have been hiding our hatred towards religious people behind our political slogans,” said Ekaterina Samutsevich. “But we were not the ones to make Christ the Savior Cathedral a political stage. It was Patriarch Kirill when he insisted the parish should vote for Vladimir Putin [in the upcoming presidential poll].

Tolokonnikova also said she doubts the prosecutors’ work reminding of earlier accusations that the evidence was fabricated. Maria Alyokhina dubbed the proceedings "illegal" and slammed the prosecutors for blackmail and pressure.

The punk activists also insisted that their song was slamming the fusion of the church and state and that any explicit expressions used in their text, such as “holy sh*t”, only served to reveal their opinion about the state of affairs in Russia.

If the participants of the process knew about such thing as ‘punk’ it would have been so much easier,” said Tolokonnikova. “We are jesters, clowns, probably holy fools, but we don’t mean evil.

The prosecutors opted not to comment on the remarks which meant the session was wrapping up. On Wednesday, the three defendants will be allowed their final statements before the court announces its verdict.

From the very beginnging, the Pussy Riot trial has been accompanied by protests and calls for authorities to free the three activists. On Friday three protesters had to be forcibly removed from the courthouse, after climbing on to the building’s scaffolding.

The Pussy Riot trial has sparked a media frenzy in Russia as well as the rest of the world, dividing society over what punishment the women should receive, if any.

The group’s concert provoked furor amongst Orthodox believers, who have condemned it as blasphemy and demand a severe punishment.

Equally, the Pussy Riot case has gathered support among high-profile public figures, who have been pushing for authorities to free the women.

The trial itself has been dogged by controversy amid numerous calls from Pussy Riot’s lawyer to recuse the judge on the basis that she is biased. The group’s lawyer also alleged the way her clients had been treated during the trial was akin to torture, claiming they were not given adequate breaks to eat and rest.

The three defendants maintain they are not guilty of the charges set against them, but have conceded that they made an “ethical mistake.”

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