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Pussy Riot singer compares trial to Stalin-era repression

(AFP) / 8 August 2012

The lead singer of Russian punk band Pussy Riot compared the groupís trial to Stalin-era repression Wednesday in a dramatic final statement before the verdict is delivered later this month.

Prosecutors are asking the court to sentence the three young women to three years in prison on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for bursting into Moscow’s biggest church on February 21 and singing a “punk prayer” against Vladimir Putin.

The presiding judge said she would start reading her verdict on August 17, after bringing an end to seven days of hearings during which the court barred most of the defence’s witnesses.

Lead singer Nadezhda Tolokonnikova told the court the trial was “a political order for repression (that meets) the standards of Stalinist troikas,” referring to the Soviet dictator’s special fast-track courts.

The controversial case has drawn global calls from celebrities and top Western officials for the young women to be released.

US pop icon Madonna interrupted her packed concert in Moscow on Tuesday to tell the cheering crowd that she was praying for the band members’ freedom, while Yoko Ono tweeted a message to Putin telling him he was making a mistake.

“Mr Putin you are a wise man & dont need to fight with musicians & their friends,” the artist and widow of John Lennon wrote on her Twitter account.

The magazine Der Spiegel meanwhile reported that 121 deputies in the German legislature had sent Moscow a letter condemning the five months the women have spent in pre-trial detention as “draconian”.

Tolokonnikova and her band-mates Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alyokhina pulled on knitted balaclavas and burst into the Christ the Saviour Cathedral on February 21 to ask the Virgin Mary to oust the veteran Russian strongman.

“Virgin Mary, Mother of God, put Putin away,” the band sang, condemning “the Church’s praise of rotten dictators.”

Despite anti-Putin street protests in Moscow and other large cities, Putin was elected president by a thumping margin two weeks after Pussy Riot’s performance. The authorities have since launched criminal probes against top leaders of the street protests.

Tolokonnikova said she felt confident that Russia’s political system would soon have to change.

“History, including the Stalin terror, does not teach people,” she told the court from inside a glass enclosure assigned to defendants throughout the trial.

“This is a trial of the whole government system,” she added, predicting “the collapse of this political system.”

Putin has dismissed the performance as “nothing good”, but also said he hoped the band members would not be “judged too severely” for their stunt.

The state prosecutor on Tuesday sought three years in a penal colony for the young women after arguing that “their correction is only possible in conditions of isolation from society.”

But a source close to the Kremlin was quoted as saying on Wednesday that the court might pass a lighter sentence while still issuing a guilty verdict.

“Otherwise there would still be a question over why they were even detained,” a parliament source close to Putin’s administration told the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily.

“The sentence will probably account for time served and possibly slightly exceed it. It would be foolish to release the Pussy Riot women right then and there in court,” the source said.

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