Activists get two years for anti-Putin church stunt

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Popular Russian author Boris Akunin, a supporter of Pussy Riot who was outside the courthouse, said Putin “has doomed himself to another year and a half of international shame and humiliation.”

“The whole thing is bad because it’s yet another step toward the escalation of tensions within society. And the government is absolutely to blame,” he said.

Defense lawyers said they would appeal but had little hope that the verdict would be overturned. “This verdict is the result of a political decision in the Kremlin, made by Vladimir Putin,” said Mark Feygin.

He said the women would not ask for a pardon from Putin. “They will not beg and humiliate themselves before such a bastard,” he said.

Another sign of the defendants’ resolve came in a new song the band released Friday on the Internet: “Putin Is Lighting the Fires of Revolution.”

Samutsevich’s father said he had met with his daughter before the court session and she was prepared for a prison sentence. “We tried to comfort her,” said Stanislav Samutsevich.

Amnesty International, which has called the women prisoners of conscience, said the court ruling “shows that the Russian authorities will stop at no end to suppress dissent and stifle civil society.”

Governments including the United States, Britain, France and Germany denounced the sentences as disproportionate.

President Barack Obama was disappointed by the decision, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “While we understand the group’s behavior was offensive to some, we have serious concerns about the way that these young women have been treated by the Russian judicial system,” he said.

Further controversy was stirred up by the detention of Kasparov, now one of Putin’s fiercest critics. He said he was beaten by the police who detained him, but police claimed that he bit an officer’s finger. After his release, Kasparov tweeted that he was going to an emergency room “to check my injuries and to prove that I am not drunk and haven’t bitten anyone.”

The Pussy Riot case has helped to energize the opposition. Protest leader Alexei Navalny condemned the verdict as a “cynical mockery of justice” and said the opposition would step up its protests.

Even some Kremlin loyalists strongly criticized the verdict. Former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said it has dealt “yet another blow to the court system and citizens’ trust in it.”

“The country’s image and its attractiveness in the eyes of investors have suffered an enormous damage,” he said.

Mikhail Fedotov, the head of a presidential advisory council on human rights, voiced hope that the sentence will be repealed or at least softened. Mikhail Barshchevsky, a lawyer who represents the Cabinet in high courts, said that the verdict had no basis in Russian criminal law.

The Pussy Riot case has underlined the vast influence of the Russian Orthodox Church. Although church and state are formally separate, the church identifies itself as the heart of Russian national identity and critics say its strength effectively makes it a quasi-state entity. Some Orthodox groups and many believers had urged strong punishment for an action they consider blasphemous.

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