MOSCOW - An appeal hearing for three young Russian feminist punk rockers has been delayed after one of the women fired her lawyer and the judge said it would take some time to furnish another one. The hearing has been rescheduled for Oct. 10.
The three women, members of a feminist punk collective called Pussy Riot, were convicted of "hooliganism" in August and sentenced to two years in prison for a subversive stunt in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral in February. Members of the group jumped on the church's altar and performed what they called a "punk prayer," begging for divine intervention to rid Russia of President Vladimir Putin.
Dueling protests took place outside the courtroom today, with religious opponents of the group carrying Russian Orthodox icons pitted against their supporters brandishing the group's trademark colorful balaclavas. Protests in support of the group were planned around the world today as well.
The case of the three women was seen as a bellwether of the Kremlin's patience with an unprecedented protest movement, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets calling on Putin to go. Since Putin's inauguration for a third term as president in May, lawmakers from his United Russia have ushered in a string of laws restricting freedoms in Russia. That new legislation along with the case of the three young woman was seen as an effort to intimidate Russia's opposition.
The trial of the three young feminists attracted worldwide attention and calls for their release from artists including Madonna, Sting, and Paul McCartney.
Before the verdict was handed down in August, Putin himself said he did not believe the women should be treated too harshly. They faced a maximum of seven years in prison on charges of "hooliganism."
On Sunday, the Russian Orthodox Church said in a statement that, if the women repent, they should be granted clemency. But it remains unclear how much sway the Russian Orthodox Church's statement will have on the appeal.
Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev last week called the trio's detention "unproductive," but his influence is in question after several recent public disagreements with Putin.
In what may be a signal of the Kremlin's unwillingness to show any mercy to the detained women, United Russia lawmakers recently proposed legislation that would outlaw insulting religion.
In an interview from jail published in GQ magazine last week, one of the young women said their arrest has only drawn attention to their cause against Putin's government.
"We couldn't even imagine that the authorities would be so dumb that they would actually legitimize our influence by arresting us," Nadezhda "Nadya" Tolokonnikova, 22, said in response to questions that the magazine said had been "smuggled" into the jail through the group's lawyers. One woman's answers, the magazine, said, was confiscated.