The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Russian clerics forgive Pussy Riot after band's 2-year sentence for anti-Putin rant in church

  • Print

MOSCOW - Russia's top Orthodox clerics on Saturday asked for mercy for the punk band Pussy Riot for its anti-government protest in a Moscow cathedral, but the church's forgiveness is unlikely to change the band's punishment in a case that caused an international furor over political dissent.

Despite its plea for clemency for the three rock activists, a leading cleric called the demonstration "awful" and defiant of the powerful church that is the heart of Russia's national identity.

The case, which ended Friday with the three band members' conviction for hooliganism and sentence to two years each in prison, became an emblem of Russia's intolerance of dissent and was widely seen as a warning that authorities will tolerate opposition only under tightly controlled conditions.

Tikhon Shevkunov, who is widely believed to be President Vladimir Putin's spiritual counsellor, said on state television Saturday that his church forgave the singers after their "punk prayer" in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow in February.

"We did forgive them from the very start. But such actions should be cut short by society and authorities," said the cleric, who heads Moscow's Sretensky Monastery.

Archpriest Maxim Kozlov agreed, but he also said on state TV that his church hopes the young women and their supporters change their ways.

"We are simply praying and hoping that these young women and all these people shouting in front of the court building, committing sacrilegious acts not only in Russia but in other countries, realize that their acts are awful," he said. "And despite this the church is asking for mercy within the limits of law."

Both clerics supported the court's decision to prosecute Pussy Riot, despite an international outcry that incited global protests from Moscow to New York and condemnation from musicians like Madonna and Paul McCartney. Governments, including those in the United States, Britain, France and Germany, denounced the sentences as disproportionate.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alekhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, were arrested in March after dancing and high-kicking in the cathedral as they called on the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Putin, who was elected to a third term as Russia's president two weeks later.

A Moscow court sentenced them Friday following a trial that was widely seen as Kremlin-orchestrated.

The conviction comes in the wake of several recently passed laws cracking down on opposition, including one that raised the fine for taking part in an unauthorized demonstrations by 150 times to 300,000 rubles (about $9,000). Another measure requires non-government organizations that both engage in vaguely defined political activity and receive funding from abroad to register as "foreign agents."

The Pussy Riot case has underlined the vast influence of the Russian Orthodox Church. Although church and state are formally separate, critics say its strength and symbolism in the country effectively makes it a quasi-state entity. Some Orthodox groups and many believers had urged strong punishment for an action they consider blasphemous.

The church has a history of cracking down on its critics in post-Soviet Russia: Gleb Yakunin, a priest and former lawmaker was defrocked and excommunicated after discovering in the early 1990s that church leaders had been enlisted as KGB agents.

The current head of the church, Patriarch Kirill, has made no secret of his strong support for Putin, praising his leadership as "God's miracle," and has described the punk performance as part of an assault by "enemy forces" on the church.

The church has ardently backed the Kremlin, consecrating new nuclear missiles as "Russia's guardian angels" and urged young Russians to volunteer for military service in Chechnya.

At the time of the prank, Kirill himself was a focus of the growing opposition to the church.

His reputation was tarnished by a pair of scandals involving a €30,000 ($38,832) Breguet watch he was seen wearing and a court case in which he won 20 million rubles ($630,000) from a cancer-stricken neighbour — despite his monastic vows not to have any worldly possessions while serving the church.

In a statement on Friday, the Orthodox Church called the band's stunt a "sacrilege" and a "reflection of rude animosity toward millions of people and their feelings." It also asked the authorities to "show clemency toward the convicted in the hope that they will refrain from new sacrilegious actions."

Meanwhile, new appeals for the band's release came from the entertainment world. Madonna called the sentence "harsh" and "inhumane" in a statement Saturday and asked the court to change its mind.

"I call on all those who love freedom to condemn this unjust punishment. I urge artists around the world to speak up in protest against this travesty," the musician said.

"They've spent enough time in jail. I call on ALL of Russia to let Pussy Riot go free," she said.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Keri Latimer looks for beauty in the dark and the spaces between the notes

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press. Local- Deer in Canola field near Elma, Manitoba. 060706.
  • Someone or thing is taking advantage of the inactivity at Kapyong Barracks,hundreds of Canada Geese-See Joe Bryksa’s goose a day for 30 days challenge- Day 15- May 22, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you like Gord Steeves’ idea to sell four city-owned golf courses to fund road renewal?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google