Russia Vs. Punk Rock Band 'Pussy Riot' - Verdict Expected Friday

 @angeloyoung_a.young@ibtimes.com
on August 16 2012 9:20 AM
  • Masked In Support
    Scottish protesters dress up in support of 'Pussy Riot' Reuters
  • Walk To trial
    The band members head to court. Reuters
  • Live From Moscow: An Anti-Putin Performance
    The band played in Red Square in January 2012. Reuters
  • Three Years
    The band members attend their trial inside the defendants' cell in a court in Moscow on Aug. 3, 2012. Reuters
  • Moscow Protest
    Protestors in from of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow on Wednesday. Reuters
  • Protester Arrested
    Security officials' response. Reuters
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A Russian court is expected to issue a verdict Friday in the trial of three of the seven members of Pussy Riot, a feminist punk band, facing up to three years in prison for participating in an uninvited protest performance in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral against President Vladimir Putin's ties with the Orthodox Church. 

The trial has garnered international attention and sympathy from free speech advocates and pop stars, and it has come to symbolize the Russian government's tolerance for dissent and free speech.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, and Maria Alyokhina, 24, have been officially charged with "hooliganism" motivated by religious hatred. State prosecutor Alexei Nikiforov echoed the sentiments of Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill by calling the trio "abusers of God."

On Feb. 21, the band barged onto the altar of the capital's main cathedral and belted out a profane "punk prayer" deriding Putin. In one passage they implored the Vigrin Mary to oust Putin from office. They were arrested a few days later and spent five months in jail awaiting the trial that began late last month.

"It was a shock that the authorities made such a serious case out of this," Samutsevich's father Stanislav told Reuters earlier this month as the trial progressed. The three members of the band are all educated middle class Muscovites; Samutsevich reportedly graduated at the top of her class.

Putin, who has been either president or prime minister of the country for over 13 years, has staunch support among the country's religious nationalists. Kirill recently praised Putin's long tenure as a "miracle of God" while members of the church have vowed to fight protesters who have been depicted by the government as entitled rich urbanites. The Russian opposition has held up the trial as an example of Putin's KGB-like proclivity to quell dissent.

"How did you see Libya under Gaddafi? How do you see North Korea under Kim Jong-un, the 28-year-old 'Brilliant comrade'? To us, Russia under Putin, aka 'the National Leader,' is no different.

On Wednesday, a small band of protesters expressing support for the punk trio clashed with security forces outside the Christ the Saviour Cathedral. Four of the 18 demonstrators were arrested and face civil charges. Outside Russia, protests in support of the group have been staged in Iceland, Scotland the UK and France.

The U.S. State Department  has even been brought into the fray, calling the trial a "politically motivated prosecution of the Russian opposition." French Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti slammed the trial, condemning what he called an assault on artistic freedom. German lawmakers have also criticized what they called a "disproportionate" response to the alleged crime.

Protests in at least a dozen cities worldwide have been planned to take place at 2 p.m. Moscow time (1000 GMT).

Alexey Prokopyev, a 29-year-old Russian in Paris, said he was helping coordinate protests among Russian expatriates through a expatriate student organization.

"Most people go to these rallies in Paris because we cannot be in Russia at the moment for various reasons -- because of jobs, classes," Prokopyev told the Associated Press. "We all wish we were in Moscow now, but since we can't, we do it in Paris."

Protests in New York are expected in front of the Russian Consulate and in Times Square.

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