Judge says women 'motivated by religious hatred'

BERLIN — A growing group of celebrities and musicians are adding their support for the three members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, each jailed for two years on Friday after being found guilty of hooliganism for performing a protest song in a Moscow cathedral in February.

Rockers Madonna, Paul McCartney, Sting, Bryan Adams, Moby, the Beastie Boys, Peter Gabriel, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bjork plus thesps Elijah Wood, Adrian Grenier, Chloe Seveigney and Alicia Silverstone are among those who have voiced their support.

Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, had argued their “punk prayer” was a political act in protest at the Russian Orthodox Church’s support of President Vladimir Putin.

In handing down her judgment, Judge Marina Syrova stated that the trio had “expressed no repentance” and “offended the feelings of believers.”

The women “committed a serious breach of public order, motivated by religious hatred” and engaged in “provocative and insulting acts in a religious building,” she added.

The sentences include time already served. The trio have been in jail since February.

Lawyers for the women said Friday they would appeal.

A growing number of Pussy Riot supporters gathered outside the courthouse ahead of the verdict.

Madonna said in a statement, “I protest the conviction and sentencing of Pussy Riot to a penal colony for two years for a 40-second performance extolling their political opinions.”

In a open letter to the women before the court judgment, McCartney wrote, “I would like you to know that I very much hope the Russian authorities would support the principle of free speech for all their citizens and not feel that they have to punish you for your protest.”

On Thursday, Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union, told the BBC’s Russian Service the case should never have gone to trial, calling it “a completely pointless undertaking.”

Amnesty Intl. considers the artists prisoners of conscience.

The trial and verdict has brought worldwide attention to both the plight of the Pussy Riot trio and the Russian opposition that appeared almost overnight after Putin revealed last year that he would stand for a third term as president.

Two weeks ago Putin urged the court to show leniency, while he was visiting the London Olympics — perhaps sensing the danger a harsh sentance posed to Russia’s reputation worldwide.

Pussy Riot is likely to long remain a symbol of the growing opposition to his authoritarian rule.

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