Russia's rights ombudsman decries Pussy Riot verdict
By Gabriela Baczynska
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's human rights ombudsman on Thursday called the prison sentences handed down to three women from punk band Pussy Riot "excessive" and warned that the case was igniting dangerous tensions within society.
The trio were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred by a Moscow court on August 17 after belting out a profanity-laced anti-Putin song on the altar of Moscow's main cathedral in February.
Vladimir Lukin, who was originally nominated for his advisory role by President Vladimir Putin, said he might challenge the sentencing of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich if their jail terms were upheld on appeal.
"It is a misdemeanor that in a normal, civilized European state, which Russia is, is handled in administrative rather than criminal proceedings. That's why I think the ruling on those women is excessive," he told a news conference when asked about the case.
Western governments and singers have condemned the sentences as disproportionate and the case has become a cause celebre in Western media where most commentators have echoed the Russian opposition's charge that the verdict was part of a crackdown on dissent by Putin.
However, the Kremlin has denounced foreign criticism as politically-motivated. [ID:nL6E8JMJB7] Many Russian Orthodox believers have also said they were offended by the protest, part of a wave of demonstrations against Putin ahead of his re-election to the presidency in March for a third term.
The women said they meant no offence and were protesting against close ties between the state and the dominant Russian Orthodox Church, whose leader, Patriarch Kirill, likened Putin's years at the helm to a "miracle of God" a few weeks before the Pussy Riot protest.
Lukin, a former liberal lawmaker and ambassador to the United States, said the women's stunt was not a crime but a "quite serious misdemeanor". Continued...