Pussy Riot members sentenced to 2 years in prison

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Amnesty International strongly condemned the court’s ruling, saying it “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.

The Pussy Riot case has stoked the resentment of opposition partisans who have turned out for a series of huge anti-Putin rallies since last winter.

Alexei Navalny, a key leader behind those protests, condemned the verdict as a “cynical mockery of justice” and said the opposition will step up its protests.

Even some Kremlin loyalists strongly criticized the verdict. 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of a presidential advisory council on human rights, criticized the verdict and voiced hope that the sentence will be repealed or at least softened.

And 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.

The head of the church, Patriarch Kirill, has made no secret of his strong support for Putin, praising his presidencies as “God’s miracle,” and he described the performance as part of an assault by “enemy forces” on the church. He avoided talking to the media as he left Warsaw’s Royal Castle following a ceremony in which he and the head of Poland’s Catholic Church called for mutual forgiveness and reconciliation.

The judge relied extensively on the testimony of church laymen, who said they were offended and shocked by the band’s stunt. “The actions of the defendants reflected their hatred of religion,” Syrova said in the verdict.

The Orthodox Church said in a statement after the verdict that the band’s stunt was a “sacrilege” and a “reflection of rude animosity toward millions of people and their feelings.” It also asked the authorities to “show clemency toward the convicted in the hope that they will refrain from new sacrilegious actions.”

The case comes in the wake of several recently passed laws cracking down on opposition, including one that raised the fine for taking part in an unauthorized demonstrations by 150 times to 300,000 rubles (about $9,000).

Another measure requires non-government organizations that both engage in vaguely defined political activity and receive funding from abroad to register as “foreign agents.”

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Lynn Berry, Jim Heintz, Mansur Mirovalev and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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