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Pussy Riot Found Guilty of Hooliganism by Russian Court

Pussy Riot Behind Glass Trial - H 2012
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Three members of the Russian punk band are sentenced to two years in prison as protests sweep through Europe.

The three women behind the Russian punk band Pussy Riot were convicted of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" by a Russian court Friday and sentenced to two years in jail.

The controversial charges stemmed from a surprise performance at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, at which the band's members -- Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29 -- recited a "punk prayer" asking the Virgin Mary to protect Russia from President Vladimir Putin. Read the lyrics to "Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away" here.

"The Pussy Riot singers colluded under unestablished circumstances for the purpose of offensively violating public peace in a sign of flagrant disrespect for citizens," the verdict read.

"Intending to make the planned actions public and ensure that they drew public response," it continued, "to draw the attention of the public to their illegal actions and to communicate the expressed disrespect not only to the clergy and people in the church but also to other citizens who were not present in the church at the time [of the punk prayer] but shared Orthodox traditions, Samutsevich, Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and their unidentified accomplice informed various media assistants and active bloggers on their action."

"It was a small act but maybe not a very elegant act, but they consider that it is the country which is sick," Judge Marina Syrova said upon delivering the verdict. "For them, individuals are not important. They consider that education in Russia is still in the Soviet mold. And that there is still cruelty in the country and that prison is a miniature of Russia itself."

In closing statements delivered last week, the band stood defiant against the Russian government and Putin.

"The whole world now sees that the criminal case against us has been fabricated," Samutsevich offered. "The system cannot conceal the repressive nature of this trial. Once again, the world sees Russia differently than the way Putin tries to present it at his daily international meetings. Clearly, none of the steps Putin promised to take toward instituting the rule of law has been taken. And his statement that this court will be objective and hand down a fair verdict is yet another deception of the entire country and the international community."

Protests ripped across Moscow, where political activist and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov was among the arrested. Russian reports indicate that Kasparov was speaking with journalists when he was detained by police; he allegedly was beaten and bit the hand of a police officer.

In London, protesters demonstrated outside the Russian Embassy as they awaited the verdict, according to the London Evening Standard. The protest -- which included people with signs reading, "Pussy Riot: trial or showtrial?" -- was one of dozens taking place around the world in support of the band.

Protests also broke out in Berlin, Paris and Brussels, focused on the Russian Embassy.

The band has been supported by groups including Amnesty International as well as such music stars as Paul McCartney and Madonna.

"I'm writing to show my support for you at this difficult time," McCartney wrote in a letter posted Thursday morning on Twitter. "I would like you to know that I very much hope the Russian authorities would support the principle of free speech for all their citizens and not feel that they have to punish you for your protest. Many people in the civilized world are allowed to voice their opinions, and as long as they do not hurt anyone in doing so, I believe this is the best way forward for all societies.

"I hope you can stay strong," he continued, "and believe that I and many others like me who believe in free speech will do everything in our power to support you and the idea of artistic freedom."