Suspense precedes verdict for jailed Russian punk band

Criticism over constraints on political speech

 

In a case that has generated worldwide criticism over constraints on political speech in Russia, three young women who staged an anti-Putin stunt in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior last February were widely expected to be convicted of hooliganism on Friday, even as huge suspense loomed over how severely they would be punished.

 

Pussy Riot

 

The three women, members of a punk rock band called Pussy Riot, have been in jail since March, and prosecutors have urged a three-year prison sentence, though the maximum penalty under the law is seven years. Meanwhile, a chorus of supporters, including some of the music world’s biggest stars, has demanded their immediate release.

 

In the unfolding political drama that began in Russia after disputed parliamentary elections last December, the case has become a touchstone, partly because of the sympathetic appearance of the defendants — two are mothers of young children — partly because their group uses music to carry its message, and of course because it has pitted them against a united power-structure: the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church.

 

Because of the support they have received from stars like Sting and Madonna, the women of Pussy Riot have become more famous, at least outside of Russia, than the opposition figures who led large anti-government street protests in Moscow throughout the winter and spring.

 

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