Pussy Riot members appeal jail sentence

Three members of the Pussy Riot punk band have lodge an appeal over a court’s decision to jail them for two years for their “punk prayer” against Russian leader Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral, their lawyer said today.

The stunt angered Russia’s dominant Orthodox Church, but the women’s trial and punishment also upset human rights activists and others who accused the Kremlin and the Church of orchestrating the trial amid a crackdown on Mr Putin’s critics.

Protests supporting the women have been held in many countries, and celebrities such as Sir Paul McCartney have called for their release.

The women were arrested and put on trial after their unauthorised performance at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February, during which they called on the Virgin Mary to deliver Russia from Mr Putin.

The Russian leader faces growing opposition, and he has increasingly cracked down on critics since returning to the presidency in May.

The women were sentenced on August 17, and their lawyer, Violetta Volkova, said the appeal was submitted to the Khamovniki district court today. A decision is expected within 10 days.

Meanwhile, the band said at least two of their members have fled Russia to avoid arrest.

Also today, Orthodox Church leaders condemned the chopping down of wooden crosses in Russia and neighbouring Ukraine by people claiming to support Pussy Riot.

In mid-August, the controversial Ukrainian group Femen, whose topless members stage pranks to support women’s rights, cut down a massive Orthodox cross in Kiev to protest the band members’ conviction. Four more crosses were cut down in the northern Russian region of Archangelsk and the Urals region of Chelyabinsk over the weekend.

Church spokesman Vladimir Legoida said the vandals “taunt” Russian culture and history.

Pussy Riot manager Pyotr Verzilov said last week that the band disapproved of damaging crosses.

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