Russia extends jailing of Pussy Riot activists

Fri Jul 20, 2012 2:57pm EDT
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By Gabriela Baczynska

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Three members of female punk group Pussy Riot who derided President Vladimir Putin in a protest in Moscow's main cathedral had their spell in jail extended by six months on Friday in what their lawyers called a show trial dictated by the Kremlin.

The women, who have been held in pre-trial custody for almost five months, face up to seven years in jail on charges of hooliganism for storming the altar in multi-colored masks to sing a "punk prayer" to the Virgin Mary to "Throw Putin Out!"

Pussy Riot's brazen act was part of a protest movement against Putin's 12-year dominance of Russia that at its peak saw 100,000 people take part in winter demonstrations in Moscow.

The February 21 protest, which offended many believers in the mainly Orthodox Christian country, exposed deep divisions over the church leadership's backing for Putin and the scale of punishment faced by the women, two of whom have young children.

Defense lawyer Mark Feigin said the court's acquiescence to a prosecution request to hold Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich until January 13 showed Russian leaders had given orders for their conviction.

"Today's decision only proves again that our role as defendants here is a pure formality," Feigin told reporters after the hearing, which was closed to the media.

"There is a lot of evidence that the judge will disregard justice in favor of pre-set instructions on how to rule which have been handed down by the authorities. They want to find them guilty ... to punish them with real jail time.

"It is not a process but a judicial reprisal," he said.   Continued...

Members of female punk band "Pussy Riot", Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (C), Maria Alyokhina (R) and Yekaterina Samutsevich, sit behind bars before a court hearing in Moscow, July 20, 2012. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva