- Associated Press - Monday, October 1, 2012

MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian court postponed an appeal Monday by three members of the jailed rock band Pussy Riot after one of them fired her lawyers. Prosecutors criticized the move as a delaying tactic, while one defense lawyer said the women were under tremendous pressure, with the government threatening to take away their children.

The two year-sentences given the three performers for hooliganism after they performed a “punk prayer” against President Vladimir Putin at Moscow’s main cathedral have provoked an international outcry that has embarrassed Mr. Putin’s government.

The band members’ imprisonment has come to symbolize intolerance of dissent in Mr. Putin’s Russia and the increasingly close links between the government and the Russian Orthodox Church, which have angered many Russians.

As the hearing began Monday, band member Yekaterina Samutsevich unexpectedly announced that she had fired her three lawyers over an unspecified disagreement.

Samutsevich said she had found another lawyer but had not yet signed a contract. Her fellow band members said they supported Samutsevich’s choice but would still retain the services of their lawyers.

Violetta Volkova, the defense lawyer representing Samutsevich personally, said she did not know the reason for the decision but respected her client’s right to choose.

The appeal was adjourned until Oct. 10.

Prosecutors and court officials cried foul.

“As a rule, such actions being taken on the day of the hearing are directed solely at creating a delay,” court spokeswoman Anna Usacheva said.

Olga Mefodyeva, an analyst at the Center for Political Technologies, suggested the decision might have been a public relations ploy.

“It is possible that because attention to the case has weakened somewhat, they are using such events to draw that attention once again and make this issue into a subject of active discussion,” Ms. Mefodyeva said.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alekhina, 24, and the 30-year-old Samutsevich were arrested in March after dancing and high-kicking at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral as they pleaded with the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Mr. Putin.

They said during their trial in August that they were protesting the Russian Orthodox Church’s support for Mr. Putin and didn’t intend to offend religious believers.

The women have all been resolutely defiant during their initial court hearings, but the apparent differences over their legal strategy have led to speculation about possible fissures.

Defense lawyer Nikolai Polozov said the group had come under threats and psychological pressure from authorities.

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