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Moscow court postpones Pussy Riot appeal

Latest update : 2012-10-01

A Russian court on Monday postponed the appeal of imprisoned punk group Pussy Riot after one of the members fired her lawyers. The women received a two year jail sentence after being convicted of hooliganism in August.

A Russian court on Monday postponed the appeal of imprisoned punk group Pussy Riot after one of the members fired her lawyers. The women received a two year jail sentence after being convicted of hooliganism in August.

A Russian court on Monday postponed the appeal of three members of jailed rock band Pussy Riot until October 10 after one of the group fired her lawyers.

Pussy Riot court appeal postponed until October 10

The three performers were sentenced in August to two years in prison for performing a “punk prayer'' against President Vladimir Putin at Moscow's main cathedral.

Yekaterina Samutsevich announced at the opening of hearings that she recused her three lawyers over an unspecified disagreement.

The cause of the three women not only been taken up by opponents of President Vladimir Putin but also by world figures ranging from Aung Sang Suu Kyi to Madonna.

The trio, Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Samutsevich, 30, - two of whom are young mothers - were found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for storming into Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in February and staging a balaclava-clad performance.

They were rapidly apprehended by church security guards but only arrested by police in March. Several other Pussy Riot members involved in the action remain at large, despite vows by the authorities to hunt them down.

Medvedev speaks out

A call by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev for the trio to be given a suspended sentence and released as well as signs of mercy from the powerful Russian Orthodox Church had given rise to some hopes among their supporters.

But their lawyers emphasised that the most they were hoping for was a reduction of the sentence.

"We have practically no hope that the conviction will be changed. The maximum we can hope for is a reduction of the sentence by half a year," one of their lawyers, Violetta Volkova, told AFP.

A senior Church spokesman said at the weekend said that if the women showed signs of repentance "then that should not be ignored and those who broke the law should have the chance to move ahead on the path of correction."

Pussy Riot protest video

"The (Russian Orthodox) Church sincerely wants those who profaned the holy place to repent as the Church is convinced that this will be good for their souls," said the head of the synodal information department, Vladimir Legoida, quoted by Russian news agencies.

Joshua Yaffa, correspondent for The Economist, told FRANCE24 that it is “extraordinarily unlikely” the group would accept the Church’s offer, adding that the women’s lawyers said they refused to do anything “that showed that they accepted guilt for their actions as they thought they did absolutely nothing wrong.”

“To many Pussy Riot supporters, this statement from the Church essentially commenting on an ongoing judicial matter only further proves the very tight connection and relationship between state power and religious power.”

The father of one of the band members believes the Church’s meddling will not change the verdict. “I think the decision on such widely publicised political cases are not being made in the courtroom but in totally different places, that’s why the court’s decision was predetermined a long time ago,” he said.

Case has divided country

The cathedral itself is a symbol of the resurgence of religion in post-Soviet Russia after its repression in the USSR and the case has divided the country.

For many in the Russian opposition, the action against Pussy Riot has become a symbol of the repression of civil society under Putin's third Kremlin term, which began against the background of unprecedented protests.

Their plight has had a huge global echo -- Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi called for their release "as soon as possible", while Madonna said in Moscow this summer that "I pray for their freedom".

While claiming he cannot influence the case, Putin has made no secret of his distaste for the group's antics. He referred to their stunt as an "orgy" and has played up their links to a controversial art group.

Pussy Riot is affiliated to the activist art group Voina (War), one of whose leading members is Tolokonnikova's husband Verzilov.

Putin this month indicated he had not forgotten Voina's most notorious action in 2008, where several of its activists including Tolokonnikova and Verzilov had public sex in a Moscow biological museum to mock Putin's protege Medvedev.

(FRANCE24 with wires)

Date created : 2012-10-01

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