MOSCOW (Reuters) - Miss Russia 2013 said on Saturday the sentencing of punk rockers Pussy Riot to two years in prison for their protest performance in a Moscow cathedral was too harsh a punishment.
Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, were sent to prison camps in August after performing an anti-Kremlin "prayer" in February last year at Moscow's main Russian Orthodox cathedral.
"I've graduated from a Sunday school and a place of worship for me is something sacred," Elmira Abdrazakova, who was named Miss Russia 2013 earlier this month, told the Russkaya Sluzhba Novostei radio station.
"But still, their punishment is too harsh."
Despite a number of artists, writers and celebrities, and even politicians defending the group, most of President Vladimir Putin's supporters backed the Pussy Riot sentencing.
Nearly 60 percent of Putin's electorate found the verdict fair, and 53 percent of all Russians did, according to the Moscow- based Public Opinion Foundation, or FOM.
Patriarch Kirill, the head of the dominant Russian Orthodox Church and a Kremlin ally, has called the act part of a coordinated attack to thwart the post-Soviet revival of the church.
Putin in October called the band's sentencing fair, although on Thursday he declined to comment on whether the women should be freed .
The 18-year-old Abdrazakova, whose Miss Russia crowning stirred some controversy as her father is a Tatar and mother an ethnic Russian, suggested that working with the Pussy Riot women to change their view of the world would perhaps have been a better option.
Samutsevich has been since released from prison but Alyokhina's appeal for a deferment of her sentence until hear child reaches adolescence has been denied. Tolokonnikova submitted a request for early release this week, Russian media reported.
Western governments and personalities such as the pop singer Madonna and Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi have called for the release of the band members from prison.
Abdrazakova's statement echoed comments of Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who said that he had found the Pussy Riot act offensive, but thought the women should be freed.
Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Angus MacSwan