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Pussy Riot jailed for two years

24 August 2012

Niall Carson/PA Wire

Holy figures: a work by the feminiist artist, Rosita Sweetman, was displayed at a demonstration against the band's conviction, in O'Connell Street, in Dublin, last Friday

Holy figures: a work by the feminiist artist, Rosita Sweetman, was displayed at a demonstration against the band's conviction, in O'Connell Street, ...

THREE members of the Russian band Pussy Riot ( Comment, 3 August; News, 10 August) were sentenced last Friday, to two years in prison, after being found guilty by a court in Moscow of committing "hooliganism driven by religious hatred".

The three defendants - Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, aged 22, Marya Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30 - were arrested in March after a video appeared online of an incident, on 21 February, when they entered the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow to perform a punk-style song that called on the Virgin Mary to "throw Putin out".

Handing down the judgment, Judge Marina Syrova said: "What they did was offensive to believers. It was a crude violation of the social order." At the start of the trial, the women made a statement saying that they did not mean to insult any religious feelings.

Canon Michael Bourdeaux, the President of Keston Institute in Oxford, said that the concept of "hooliganism" could be traced back to the Stalin period. "It is ironical that the state that has persecuted religion for 50 years so bitterly should now have a law indicting people for religious hatred," he said.

He described the band's protest against the growing authoritarianism of President Putin as "only a small part of the story". Its main complaint was against the "collusion between President Putin and Patriarch Kirill", the Patriarchate of Moscow.

The international reputation of the Moscow Patriarchate had "taken a huge dip", Canon Bourdeaux believed: he hoped for "some sort of a concerted response from church figures" outside Russia.

When the verdict was delivered, Patriarch Kirill was on an official visit to Poland. A statement from the Supreme Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, reported by the state news agency, said: "We ask the authorities to show mercy to the convicts, hoping that they will not repeat their blasphemous actions."

The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, who once worked at GCHQ as a Russian linguist, blogged on Tuesday that the "Patriarchate shows signs of being a little too close to Putin and his regime. This has clearly also led to a loss of theological perspective on its part. The ensuing global publicity about the Pussy Riot demo has simply drawn attention to questions the Church finds uncomfortable (or, at least, should do) and focused critical attention on its political allegiances and privilege. . . Both the Putin regime and the Church look ridiculously self-regarding and over-sensitive."

Writing on the pop-culture website Quietus last Friday, the Revd Rachel Mann, Priest-in-Charge of St Nicholas's, Burnage, Manchester, said that the Pussy Riot case "does remind us - religious or not - of a very worrying truth: that when faith gets too cosy with the centres of power, it risks betraying itself. . . The [Russian] Orthodox Church has simply become too comfortable with the political status quo."

Paul Vallely

Question of the Week: Should the Pussy Riot protesters have been jailed for their demonstration in the cathedral?

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