Russian female punk band trial hurtles towards verdict
By Gleb Bryanski
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Three young women from the punk band Pussy Riot could face sentence this week in a trial over their "protest prayer" in a church that has transfixed Russia and opened President Vladimir Putin to new accusations of a crackdown on dissent.
The first week of hearings divided the mainly Russian Orthodox country. Some believers want tough sentences but many others are calling for leniency, even though few approve of the unsanctioned performance at the altar of Moscow's main church.
The trial for hooliganism, punishable by up to seven years in jail, resumes on Monday in the same Moscow courtroom where oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky faced the second of two trials after defying Putin by taking an interest in politics.
His 13-year sentence has for Putin critics become a symbol of political pressure on the court system, and defense lawyers fear Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, and Maria Alyokhina, 24, are not getting a fair hearing.
"This trial will define the development of the country as a whole. Either we move toward 'Orthodox sharia law' or remain in a situation of 'velvet authoritarianism'," defense lawyer Nikolai Polozov said.
The trial started on July 30 and lasted late into the evening each day until Friday, with only brief breaks for the defendants - confined to a courtroom cage - and lawyers.
On one day, Alyokhina felt ill and received medical attention, but the defense's complaints that the trio were being deprived of sleep and food were ignored.
The defense team says the court hopes to finish the trial quickly, while many Russians' attention is diverted by summer vacations, and that a verdict is likely this week. Few people in Russia have much faith in the independence of the judiciary. Continued...