Punk Girls Sorry Anti-Putin Act Hurt Devout as Trial Starts

Punk Girls Sorry Anti-Putin Prayer Hurt Faithful as Trial Opens
Members of the Russian all-female punk band "Pussy Riot" Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, left, Maria Alyokhina, right, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, center, sit behind bars during a court hearing in Moscow. Photographer: Andrey Smirnov/AFP/Getty Images

Three members of a Russian all-female punk group facing seven years in jail for a political protest act inside Moscow’s Christ the Savior cathedral apologized for offending religious sensibilities.

While pleading not guilty to charges of hooliganism, the defendants said the performance in February carried political and cultural aims and didn’t intend to insult anyone, according to a statement read out by their counsel at the start of their trial in Moscow’s Khamovniki District Court today.

“Perhaps we had no right to introduce these aims into a ritual space,” the band members said in the statement read out by lawyer Violetta Volkova during proceedings broadcast live on the Internet.

Masked young women wearing skimpy dresses performed what they called a “punk prayer” in front of the altar at the country’s main Christian Orthodox place of worship, targeting Vladimir Putin, who was elected to a new six-year presidential term in March. “Holy Mother, Blessed Virgin, expel Putin,” the Pussy Riot band sang.

The young women rejected criminal charges of hooliganism, arguing that their case should be treated as an administrative violation. Top Russian cultural figures, including Putin supporters, have rallied to their defense. Visiting bands Red Hot Chili Peppers and Franz Ferdinand have expressed support for Pussy Riot while performing in Russia this month. The three defendants have been ordered to be kept in pre-trial detention until January.

Humiliate, Undermine

Prosecutors argued at the trial today that the young women had carried out a premeditated act designed to humiliate the feelings of Christian believers and undermine the spiritual life of the country, Interfax reported.

Speaking in an interview with the Times of London, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the trial should proceed and establish the guilt or innocence of the band members, according to a transcript released today by the government. A protest act of this type inside a church in some countries may be punished more severely or even “end badly” for the participants, he said.

‘Disgusting’ Stunt

The crackdown on the group’s Feb. 21 cathedral stunt, which was described as “disgusting” by Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, reflects efforts to contain the worst political unrest since the Russian leader came to power 12 years ago. The authorities are prosecuting protesters detained during clashes between police and anti-Putin activists on the eve of his May 7 inauguration and opposition leaders face potential charges of inciting violence against officials carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail.

One of the opposition leaders, Alexey Navalny, said he expects to be charged tomorrow on separate counts of causing material damage to a state timber company in 2009, punishable by as much as five years in prison. Navalny, who was summoned today by the Investigative Committee, said on his Twitter Inc. account that he’s been told to return tomorrow morning.

The jailed former billionaire owner of Yukos Oil Co., Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is serving 13 years in prison on charges of tax evasion, fraud and money-laundering, received his second conviction in December 2010 in the same courthouse where the Pussy Riot trial is taking place.

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