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  1. ITV Report

International outrage after Pussy Riot members jailed for two years

Pussy Riot members listen to the judge's guilty verdict Photo: Reuters

A Russian judge sentenced three women from the punk band Pussy Riot to two years in jail for staging an anti-Kremlin protest on the altar of Moscow's main Russian Orthodox church.

State prosecutors had wanted three-year jail terms for the three women.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, stormed the altar of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February and performed a "punk prayer" asking the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of President Vladimir Putin:

European leaders and the European Union have reacted strongly to the sentencing of Pussy Riot to two years.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the sentence was "excessively harsh" and "not compatible with the European values of the rule of law and democracy to which Russia, as a member of the Council of Europe, has committed itself."

"A dynamic civil society and politically active citizens are a necessary precondition for Russia's modernisation, not a threat," she said.

Carl Bildt, the Foreign Minister of Sweden tweeted:

Catherine Ashton, the European Union's top diplomat, said the two-year sentences handed down by a Moscow court on Friday were "disproportionate" and should be reversed.

In a statement she said: puts a serious question mark over Russia's respect for international obligations of fair, transparent and independent legal process.

"This case adds to the recent upsurge in politically motivated intimidation and prosecution of opposition activists in the Russian Federation, a trend that is of growing concern to the European Union."

The band had said that they were protesting against the close ties between Putin and the Russian Orthodox church and did not intend to offend believers.

The defendants "committed an act of hooliganism ... based on motives of religious hatred and enmity," the judge told the Moscow court as the defendants sat in a courtroom cage.

Hundreds of people outside chanted "Freedom!" and "Russia without Putin!", and police detained several activists including opposition leaders.

Opponents of Putin, who began a six-year presidential term in May, portray the trial as part of a wider crackdown by the former KGB spy to crush their protest movement.

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