Three members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot were found guilty of "hooliganism" and sentenced to two years in prison today in Russia. The maximum sentence for the charges was seven years. In a case that has garnered international attention, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, and Marina Alyokhina, 24, have been in jail since March, when they were arrested after performing (video) a "punk prayer" on the altar of Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral in dissent of Vladimir Putin.
The members entered the church wearing bright colors and balaclavas, singing "Mother of God, Blessed Virgin, drive out Putin!" They noted later that their intent was to challenge the Church's political support for Putin and to show their dissatisfaction with Putin's 12-year political dominance.
The Associated Press reports that Boris Akunin, one of Russia's best known authors, said: "This is all nonsense. I can't believe that in the 21st century a judge in a secular court is talking about devilish movements. I can't believe that a government official is quoting medieval church councils."
Musicians, activists and human rights groups worldwide have been standing in solidarity with Pussy Riot both online and in the streets. Amnesty International has named the women prisoners of conscience, and artists including Sting, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bjork, Madonna, and Chloe Sevigny have been speaking out in support. Activists have marked August 17 as Pussy Riot Global Day and are staging solidarity protests all over the world. Although the women have experienced an outpouring of international support and solidarity, opinion polls indicate that Russians themselves are not very sympathetic. The case has shed international light on the Russian government's intolerance of dissent.
In her closing statement at the trial, Alyokhina said, "I am not afraid of you. I am not afraid of you and I am not afraid of the thinly veneered deceit of your verdict at this 'so-called' trial. My truth lives with me. I believe that honesty, free-speaking and the thirst for truth will make us all a little freer. We will see this come to pass."