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Jailhouse Rock: Russian Court Gives Punk Band Pussy Riot Two Years in Prison

August 17, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Three women from the Russian punk rock band called Pussy Riot were sentenced to jail time today for their protest in a church against President Vladimir Putin. It’s a case that has sparked worldwide attention.

Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News reports from Moscow.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: This afternoon, the three punk band protesters were led in handcuffs into a glass box in court. They’d already been detained for five months, and after a two-week trial, the judge had set today for her verdict.

The Pussy Riot three didn’t look remorseful. In fact, they frequently smiled, especially when the judge read out the text of their offending song.

It was a song five members of Pussy Riot had performed for no more than two minutes in this Moscow cathedral back in February, though only three were arrested.

The judge said the three were guilty of hooliganism driven by religious hatred, the sentence, two years in jail, a year less than the prosecutor asked for.

But the women smiled again, as if freedom of expression was really on trial here, and not them, all this being broadcast live by Russian state media, nevertheless.

And as Masha, Katya and Nadya were led back to jail, it seemed that pressure from Paul McCartney and protest groups around the world had no discernible effect. The judge said the three women had crudely undermined social order with a disrespectful and unpleasant performance which had offended Orthodox believers. But in the court of world public opinion, it seems that the regime of Vladimir Putin was also in the dock here.

The husband of Nadya, the lead singer, told me two years was apparently Mr. Putin’s definition of leniency. The father of Katya said that every Russian generation had gone to prison, and that the country was now turning into Saudi Arabia or Iran.

Hundreds of protesters for and against the punk band were kept back by police. A few dozen were rounded up, including the former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, who could still be heard shouting after the door to the police van closed with him inside.

This evening, the Russian Orthodox Church said in a statement the verdict was lawful, but it asked for mercy, though it didn’t spell out what mercy meant.

“The women’s action slapped Christians in the face,” this priest said. But he added that God had already punished them by taking away their common sense.

The Kremlin hasn’t commented, though President Putin said two weeks ago that the women shouldn’t be judged too harshly.