Russian court adjourns punk band appeal hearing

Mon Oct 1, 2012 12:48pm EDT
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By Maria Tsvetkova and Gabriela Baczynska

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian court on Monday adjourned until October 10 an appeal hearing for the three members of the Pussy Riot punk band jailed over a profanity-laced anti-Kremlin protest in a church after one of the trio dismissed her lawyers.

Supporters of the group in colorful T-shirts let off red, white and blue balloons saying "Pussy Riot" outside the court as Russian Orthodox Christians sang hymns and accused the women of blasphemy.

Inside the crowded Moscow courtroom, Yekaterina Samutsevich, sitting in a glass cage with her band mates, told the judges she disagreed with her lawyers' handling of the case and fired them.

"My position on the criminal case does not match their position," Samutsevich said of her lawyers.

The hearing was delayed for 10 days to give Samutsevich time to hire new lawyers as she seeks a reduction of the two-year sentence, which drew criticism of President Vladimir Putin from abroad after it was handed down on August 17.

Western governments see the sentences as excessive, and opposition groups see it as part of a crackdown on dissent by Putin, but many Russians regard the protest band as irreverent self-publicists.

Samutsevich, 30, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Maria Alyokhina, 24, were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after storming into the Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Moscow in February and belting out a "punk prayer" asking the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin.

Relatives and defense lawyers of the three women suggested Samutsevich's decision was a result of pressure by the state authorities intended to persuade them to plead guilty.   Continued...

Members of the female punk band "Pussy Riot" (L-R) Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass-walled cage before a court hearing in Moscow, October 1, 2012. The Moscow City Court on Monday hears an appeal by three jailed members of the band, who were sentenced to two years in prison for staging an anti-Kremlin protest at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, according to local media. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov