Russia seeks 3 years jail for Pussy Riot

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Aug 08 2012 04:57 AM | Updated as of Aug 08 2012 12:57 PM

Russian prosecutors Tuesday sought three years of prison for all-girl band Pussy Riot whose anti-Putin "punk prayer" protest ignited global support from rock stars including visiting pop icon Madonna.

The demand for a tough sentence came just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin called the Pussy Riot performance "nothing good" but added that he hoped they would not be "judged too severely" for their February stunt in a Moscow church.

Also Tuesday top EU diplomat Catherine Ashton joined mounting Western diplomatic pressure on the closely watched trial declaring concerns "about irregularities" in the proceedings.

"This crime is severe and the prosecution considers that their correction is only possible in conditions of isolation from society and the punishment needed must be a real deprivation of freedom," said prosecutor Alexander Nikiforov.

Their alleged crime involved lead singer Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and her mates Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alyokhina bursting into the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow on February 21, and asking the Virgin Mary in a song to oust Putin before his election to a third presidential term.

They are being tried in the same Moscow district court where the jailed Yukos oil company boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky underwent a second hearing in 2010 that almost doubled his time in jail on the eve of his scheduled release.

The three defendants exchanged a few words after the prosecution asked for the jail term but expressed no outward signs of emotion.

Their growing ranks of supporters meanwhile brandished placards outside the court building reading "Dirty tricks do not become the court."

Defence lawyer Mark Feygin warned the authorities that a jail term for the punk rockers could backfire for Putin and his team.

"If the authorities decide to sentence them to real time, they should understand (that these protests) will not end here," he said in reference to demonstrations that first broke out on Moscow streets last winter.

"This could break relations between society and the state for good," he added.

The girl band's case had already been taken up by celebrities including British pop star Sting and US rockers the Red Hot Chili Peppers before Madonna waded into the debate on her arrival in Moscow for a sell-out concert.

The US pop diva said ahead of her concert that she hoped the band members would be allowed to walk free and described a possible sentence as a "tragedy".

"I am against censorship and my whole career I always promoted freedom of expression, freedom of speech, so obviously I think what's happening to them is unfair... I hope they do not have to serve seven years in jail," Madonna told Western journalists in comments picked up by Russian media.

"That would be a tragedy," she said.

Her plea for clemency led supporters of the powerful Russian Orthodox Church to call on the authorities to ban her scheduled concerts in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

"A woman calling herself Madonna intends to desecrate the cross," said Kirill Frolov of the Orthodox Experts Association. "We will not stand for that."

News reports said Church supporters also spent part of Tuesday picketing Madonna's central Moscow hotel.

Khodorkovsky -- the country's most famous political prisoner to date -- said the proceedings reminded him a lot of the atmosphere that led to his own initial arrest in 2004 in the days when he stood in open opposition to Putin.

"The word 'trial' is applicable here only in the sense in which it was used by the Inquisitors of the Middle Ages," he said in a statement from his jail in the northern region of Karelia.