Prosecutors ask for 3 years for anti-Putin rockers
Maria Alekhina, foreground right, a member of feminist punk group Pussy Riot is escorted to a court room in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012. Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Thursday criticized the feminist punk rockers facing trial for performing a "punk prayer" against him at Moscow's main cathedral, but said that a punishment for them shouldn't be too severe. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
MOSCOW (AP) — Prosecutors on Tuesday called for three-year prison sentences for feminist punk rockers who gave an impromptu performance in Moscow's main cathedral to call for an end to Vladimir Putin's rule, in a case that has caused international outrage and split Russian society.
Some Russians say the three women — who have already been in jail for five months — deserve to be punished for desecrating the Russian Orthodox Church and offending believers. Others insist that they are being punished for their political beliefs. The women, all in their 20s, said their goal was to express their resentment over the church's open support for Putin' rule.
Dressed in homemade ski masks and miniskirts in garish colors, the Pussy Riot band members burst into a nearly empty Christ the Savior Cathedral and spent less than a minute belting out their "punk prayer" before being hustled out by security guards. Their February stunt was part of the protest movement that gathered strength over the winter and has come under increasing pressure since Putin won a third presidential term in March.
Prosecutors portrayed the proposed three-year sentences for the women as lenient, since the hooliganism charges they face carry a maximum sentence of seven years. Prosecutor Alexander Nikiforov said the recommendation takes into account that two of the defendants have young children and that they have good character references.
Putin said last week that the punishment should not be "too severe," triggering speculation that the Kremlin was hoping to resolve the case without appearing weak or causing further anger on either side.
Defense lawyers and an influential Russian Orthodox cleric warned that jail time for the women could backfire by severing trust between ordinary Russians and the country's institutions.
Closing arguments for the defendants — Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23; Maria Alekhina, 24; and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29 — are scheduled for Wednesday. The judge's ruling could come as soon as Wednesday, as well.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, centre, a member of feminist punk group Pussy Riot is escorted to a court room in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012. Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Thursday criticized the feminist punk rockers facing trial for performing a "punk prayer" against him at Moscow's main cathedral, but said that a punishment for them shouldn't be too severe. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
The trial began July 30, and the judge has been rushing through the testimony in what appears to be an effort to bring it to an end as quickly as possible in August, a month when many in Russia and abroad are on vacation or paying more attention to the Olympics than to politics.