Russian Court Will Deliver Verdict in “Pussy Riot” Trial, Putin Could Face Backlash

A verdict will be given Friday in the trial of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, a philosophy graduate, Maria Alekhina, 24, a charity worker and environmental activist and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, a computer programming graduate. The trio members of the band called “Pussy Riot” are charged by Russian authorities with hooliganism and inciting religious hatred for performing a “punk prayer” in the country’s main Christian Orthodox place of worship.

In a handwritten letter passed to her lawyer, Miss Tolokonnikova said the Pussy Riot trial had united disparate forces of dissent against those who “threaten destruction of the liberating, emancipating forces of Russia.”

She said the fact she was in prison, “doesn’t make me angry.” There is no personal malice,” she wrote in scrawled blue pen. “But there is a political one. Our term in prison is a clear and distinct sign that freedom is being taken away from the whole country. And that threatens destruction of the liberating, emancipating forces of Russia. That’s what makes me angry.”

The three members of Pussy Riot were detained in custody and charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” a few weeks after a peaceful protest in February, in which they danced a can-can in Moscow’s main cathedral and shouted a few words of a “punk prayer” which included the words, “Mother of God, drive out Putin!”

A recent sociological survey shows that most Russians agree that the Pussy Riot punk group should be put on trial. 44 percent of respondents believe that the trial will be fair and impartial, but 17 percent of respondents feel otherwise. Meanwhile, 40 percent of those polled believe that the decision to try the punk group was prompted by Orthodox believers’ outrage at the Pussy Riot’s rowdy behaviour in a Moscow church in February this year.

The procurator has demanded a three-year jail sentence, whilst the counsel for the defence insists that the girls in the dock should be acquitted.

Their supporters plan to hold a peaceful rally near Moscow Khamovnichesky Court Friday before the verdict is delivered.

The trial triggered a lot of fuss in the country and abroad. They received support from a number of Western celebrities, such as Madonna, Paul McCartney, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith No More, Anti-Flag, Franz Ferdinand, Stephen Frey, and Yoko Ono, whilst some Russian stars condemned the girls and said that they deserved punishment.

Putin, who faced the biggest demonstrations against his 12-year-rule last year, will find it hard to reverse course now, said Igor Bunin, head of the Center for Political Technology in Moscow.

“Putin has become a hostage of the process of repression,” Bunin said by phone. “He’s in a trap. He can’t quit without losing face.”

While there have been no major opposition demonstrations since an estimated 18,000 people gathered in central Moscow June 12, the movement may be re-energized by the Pussy Riot trial and other concerns over the independence of the judiciary, according to Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a Moscow-based political analyst.

One of the defendants, Tolokonnikova, was filmed having sex with her husband in a zoological museum in Moscow while pregnant a few days before Medvedev was elected president in 2008. The event, which involved other members of a radical art collective, was posted on the Internet.

Putin, who has been criticized by the U.S. and Europe for his human-rights record since coming to power in 2000, including the imprisonment of former Yukos Oil Co. billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was asked about Pussy Riot this month during a visit to London to meet U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron.

Putin said there wasn’t “anything good” about their behavior, but they shouldn’t be judged “too severely.”

Many American have been following the fate of the group if only because of their sexist name and provocative dress.

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