Russia’s Orthodox Church may ask the authorities to soften any “severe” sentence handed down to members of the all-female punk group Pussy Riot, who recently performed an anti-Putin song in Moscow’s largest cathedral, a Church spokesman said on Friday.
“In the case of a severe sentence, the Church may apply for its mitigation,” Vladimir Legoida said. He also denied reports that Patriarch Kirill had demanded the women be jailed.
Five members of Pussy Riot, clad in bright balaclavas, chanted a protest song against Vladimir Putin that also contained words that were insulting to Patriarch Kirill at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral. The lyrics included lines such as “Holy Mother, Blessed Virgin, chase Putin out!” The performance took place next to the main altar, which is off-limits to all but priests.
Their actions have been widely condemned by believers and the Church. Church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin earlier said the punk band participants threw down a “boorish, impudent and aggressive” challenge to Russia’s Orthodox Christians.
The group said the act was a protest against the powerful Orthodox Church head Patriarch Kirill's public support for President-elect Vladimir Putin.
Three alleged performers, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich have been arrested so far.
Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova were detained on March 4 as Russians voted in presidential polls that handed Putin a third term after a four-year hiatus. The cathedral performance came amid ongoing anti-Putin protests in Moscow and other cities.
The three women will be in custody until April 24 and could face up to seven years behind bars on hooliganism charges. Two of the women, Alyokhina, who has a five-year-old son, and Tolokonnikova with a four-year-old daughter, have denied involvement.
The three women’s action split opinions, with some people, including Orthodox Christian believers, demanding harsh punishment for the performers and others saying the suspects should be released from jail pending trial, and that the sentence should not be severe.
Even some non-believers, as well as the Muslim and Judaic communities, condemned the action as a blasphemy. Many bloggers, though, have come out against the jailing of the women, with thousands having signed an online petition urging the patriarch to “petition the court to close the case.”
Legoida said that calls for a harsh sentence and leniency were both “ways to pressure the investigation.”
“We condemn any calls for aggression against the performers. At the same time we believe that it is irrelevant to urge investigation bodies to display leniency when there has yet to be a verdict,” he said.
“The participants of the punk band have been charged with hooliganism and a court should deal with the case,” Legoida said.
The Moscow City Court refused on Wednesday to release Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova from a pretrial detention center. Defense lawyer Nikolai Polozov said the judge was biased because she was the target of a provocative stunt involving Tolokonnikova last year.
Tolokonnikova and several members of art group Voina released hundreds of cockroaches in a Moscow courtroom at a separate trial presided by the same judge as a form of protest.