Pussy Riot member freed on appeal
on 10/10/2012 12:00:54
All three women were convicted in August of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for an irreverent protest against president Vladimir Putin.
They told an appeal court that their impromptu performance inside Moscow's main cathedral in February was political in nature and not an attack on religion.
The judge ruled that Yekaterina Samutsevich's sentence should be suspended because she was thrown out of the cathedral by guards before she could take part in the performance.
"The punishment for an incomplete crime is much lighter than for a completed one," said Ms Samutsevich's lawyer, Irina Khrunova.
"She did not participate in the actions the court found constituted hooliganism."
Dressed in neon-coloured miniskirts and tights, with homemade balaclavas on their heads, the women performed a "punk prayer" asking Virgin Mary to save Russia from Mr Putin as he headed into a March election that would hand him a third term.
"If we unintentionally offended any believers with our actions, we express our apologies," said Ms Samutsevich, who along with Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova spoke in court from inside a glass cage.
"The idea of the protest was political, not religious," she said. "In this and in previous protests we acted against the current government of the president, and against the Russian Orthodox Church as an institution of the Russian government, against the political comments of the Russian patriarch.
"Exactly because of this I don't consider that I committed a crime."
The case has been condemned in the US and Europe, where it has been seen as an illustration of Mr Putin's intensifying crackdown on dissent after his return to the presidency after four years as prime minister.
He, however, recently said two-year sentence was justified because "it is impermissible to undermine our moral foundations, moral values, to try to destroy the country."
The Russian Orthodox Church had said the appeals court should show leniency if the three women repented. But the defendants said that they could not repent because they harboured no religious hatred and had committed no crime. Their protest, they said, was against Mr Putin and the church hierarchy for openly supporting his rule.
Patriarch Kirill has expressed strong support for Mr Putin, praising his leadership as "God's miracle".
He described the punk performance as part of an assault by "enemy forces" on the church.
The judge repeatedly interrupted the defendants when their statements turned to politics, but they persisted in speaking their minds.
"We will not be silent. And even if we are in Mordovia or Siberia (where prisoners in Russia are often sent to serve out their terms) we won't be silent," Ms Alekhina said.
A lawyer representing cathedral staff, Alexei Taratukhin, said the verdict should be upheld because the women's actions "had nothing to do with politics, democracy or freedom."
Ms Tolokonnikova appealed to Russians for understanding.
"I don't consider myself guilty. But again I ask all those who are listening to me for the last time: I don't want people to be angry at me: Yes, I'm going to prison, but I don't want anyone to think that there is any hatred in me."