Moscow issued a stern warning on Monday against any interference in its judicial affairs, especially in the case of the anti-Putin punk group Pussy Riot, who were jailed last Friday in a case that attracted worldwide interest and widespread criticism.
Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Maria Alyokhina, 24, were jailed for two years by a Moscow court for their part in the February 21 protest in the Russian capital’s Christ the Savior Cathedral. The group performed a “punk prayer” urging the Virgin Mary to “drive Putin out.”
“You may personally agree or disagree with the verdict. But it is unacceptable to interfere with the court,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
Responding to claims that the court “was not independent in making the decision,” Lavrov stressed President Vladimir Putin had prior to sentencing recommended leniency for the punk group members.
“A similar stance was taken by the Russian Orthodox Church,” he said.
The group was charged with “hooliganism” aimed at “inciting religious hatred.” Lawyers for Pussy Riot said the performance was not anti-religious in nature, but was in protest at Orthodox Church support for Vladimir Putin ahead of the March 4 presidential elections that returned him to the Kremlin.
The ruling sparked international condemnation. Over 50 people were detained in a protest outside the court when the sentences were handed down.
Lavrov also warned against “hasty conclusions and hysterical reaction” over the issue.
“There is always the appeals option,” he said.
Russian police said earlier on Monday they were searching for the fourth and fifth participants in the Pussy Riot protest prayer. It was unclear if the police had established the identities of the suspects.