Russian Orthodox Priests Forgive Punk Rockers Pussy Riot

PHOTO: Feminist punk group Pussy Riot members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, right, Maria Alekhina, center, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, sit in a glass cage at a court room in Moscow, Russia, Aug. 17, 2012.
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Top priests from the Russian Orthodox Church reportedly said today that they have forgiven an all female punk rock group that stormed the altar of Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral in February to perform what they called a "punk prayer," begging for divine intervention to rid Russia of President Vladimir Putin.

"Despite this the church is asking for mercy within the limits of law," Archpriest Maxim Kozlov said on state run television, according to The Associated Press.

But the clerics' forgiveness may have come a day late for some of the women of the band, called Pussy Riot.

On Friday, three members of the band were found guilty of "hooliganism driven by religious hatred" and sentenced to two years in prison from the time of their initial detention.

"The church has been sometimes accused of not forgiving them," Tikhon Shevkunov said, according to the AP. "We did forgive them from the very start. But such actions should be cut short by society and authorities." In court on Friday the judge scolded the women before delivering the sentence.

"The court believes that such goals of punishment as restoration of social justice, the defendants' reform and the prevention of similar crimes may only be achieved if they are sentenced to imprisonment and serve their terms," the judge said, according to the Russian Interfax news agency.

The trial has sparked outrage around the world and drawn the attention from a chorus of Western music stars, including Paul McCartney, Madonna and Sting.

Their sentence was less than the seven-year maximum and also less than the three years in prison many observers expected. President Putin recently said he believed the women should not be treated too harshly.

The band was defiant before the court session. One member said they would not ask Putin for a pardon.

Outside the court, amid heavy police presence, supporters wearing the band's signature colorful balaclava knit caps held a rally and were joined by prominent politicians and opposition leaders.

Several, including former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and leftist protest leader Sergei Udaltsov, were arrested.

Others placed balaklavas on the heads of statues around town in silent protest.

The case was seen as a barometer of Putin's tolerance of dissent after a winter of unprecedented protests called on him to go.

Rallies in support of the band were held around the world before the verdict. The case also captured the attention of some of the world's most famous musicians.

On Thursday Paul McCartney added his voice to the growing list of music stars in calling on Russia to set the women free. Pop diva Madonna spoke out last week from the stage during a concert in Moscow.

Other artists, including Sting, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Franz Ferdinand have also used their recent Moscow concerts as a platform to call for Pussy Riot's release.

A recent poll released by the independent Levada Center found 44 percent of Russians believed the trial was objective, while only 18 percent believed the outcome was determined by the powers that be. Another 17 percent were doubtful of the trial's objectivity.

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