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At the time of the prank, Kirill himself was a focus of the growing opposition to the church.

His reputation was tarnished by a pair of scandals involving a (EURO)30,000 ($38,832) Breguet watch he was seen wearing and a court case in which he won 20 million rubles ($630,000) from a cancer-stricken neighbor _ despite his monastic vows not to have any worldly possessions while serving the church.

In a statement on Friday, the Orthodox Church called the band’s stunt 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.”

Meanwhile, new appeals for the band’s release came from the entertainment world. Madonna called the sentence “harsh” and “inhumane” in a statement Saturday and asked the court to change its mind.

“I call on all those who love freedom to condemn this unjust punishment. I urge artists around the world to speak up in protest against this travesty,” the musician said.

“They’ve spent enough time in jail. I call on ALL of Russia to let Pussy Riot go free,” she said.