'We are freer than those prosecuting us'

By Shaun Walker

The Russian punk band Pussy Riot gave impassioned speeches yesterday sharply criticising the court and the country's regime on the last day of hearings at their trial.

The three women compared their case to the show trials of the Stalin era and said the "so-called court" could not destroy their personal freedom. The judge retired to consider the verdict, to be handed down next Saturday.

The trio face up to three years in prison on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, for an impromptu "punk prayer" performed in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February.

The three women mimed a song for around 40 seconds, which was later dubbed with a soundtrack calling on the Virgin Mary to "chase out Putin", and uploaded to YouTube. They have been held in pre-trial detention for the past five months.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, read out a statement peppered with references to Socrates, Nikolai Gogol, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and the Bible.

"We are freer than those who are prosecuting us," said Tolokonnikova. "We can say everything we want, and they have their mouths shut, and are puppets."

"Spectators, we are not in the theatre," said the judge sternly when Tolokonnikova's 15-minute oration was met with a round of applause. Defence lawyers say the judge has been biased from the start, rejecting their evidence, refusing to allow them to call witnesses, and ignoring blatant flaws in the prosecution's case.

"It was a small and ridiculous act that has grown into a huge thing for the authorities," said Maria Alekhina, 24, another defendant. "In a healthy society this wouldn't have happened."

She criticised the Russian Orthodox Church for its unwillingness to offer the band forgiveness, despite their apologies.

The third defendant, 29-year-old Yekaterina Samusevich, attacked President Vladimir Putin, saying he had realised his grip on power was weakening. The women denied their performance had been motivated by religious hatred and said it was a political protest aimed at the Orthodox Patriarch's support for Putin.

Putin, when asked about the case during a trip to the Olympics, said the women should not be judged too harshly, which has led some to speculate that Russia's notoriously pliant court system might hand the trio a short sentence.

- Independent

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