Russian band Pussy Riot sentenced to two years in prison

The judge in Moscow said the three women were blasphemers who had deliberately offended Russian Orthodox believers by storming the altar of a cathedral in Feburary. President Putin's opponents portray the trial as part of a wider crackdown to crush their protest movement.

Yevgeny Feldman/Novaya Gazeta/AP
Pussy Riot punk group supporters place masks on a monument to WWII heroes to resemble Pussy Riot members, at an underground station in Moscow on Friday. Three group members were sentenced to two years in prison on Friday. "The girls' actions were sacrilegious, blasphemous and broke the church's rules," the judge said

A judge sentenced three members of Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot to two years jail on Friday for staging a protest against President Vladimir Putin in a church, an act the judge called "blasphemous."

Supporters of the women say their case has put Putin's tolerance of dissent on trial. Several opposition figures were detained outside the courtroom while protesting in support of the women.

Support from Sting

The women have support abroad, where their case has been taken up by a long list of celebrities including Madonna, Paul McCartney and Sting, but polls show few Russians sympathize with them.

Judge Marina Syrova found the women guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, describing them as blasphemers who had deliberately offended Russian Orthodox believers by storming the altar of Moscow's main cathedral in February to belt out a song deriding Putin.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Marina Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, stood watching in handcuffs in a glass courtroom cage.

The women say they were protesting against Putin's close ties with the church when they burst onto the altar in Moscow's golden domed Christ the Savior Cathedral wearing bright ski masks, tights and short skirts. State prosecutors had requested a three-year jail term.

'Violation of public order'

"Tolokonnikova, Samutsevich and Alyokhina committed an act of hooliganism, a gross violation of public order showing obvious disrespect for society," the judge said.

"The girls' actions were sacrilegious, blasphemous and broke the church's rules."

Though few Russians have much sympathy for the women, Putin's opponents portray the trial as part of a wider crackdown by the former KGB spy to crush their protest movement.

Support from Madonna

Foreign stars have campaigned for the trio's release, and Washington says the case is politically motivated. Madonna performed in Moscow with "PUSSY RIOT" painted on her back.

"As in most politically motivated cases, this court is not in line with the law, common sense or mercy," veteran human rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva said.

IN PICTURES: Russians protest Putin's party

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