Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday criticized the Pussy Riot punk band for their performance in downtown Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral but said the punishment for them should not be “too harsh.”
“There is nothing good in it [the performance], I would not like to comment on it, but I think that if the girls had desecrated something in Israel… they would not have left that country that easily,” Putin told journalists prior to his departure from London.
Three Pussy Riot members - Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, all aged between 20 and 30 - are on trial in Moscow over their performance of a “punk prayer,” calling for then-Prime Minister Putin to quit. The performance contained insults to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia, as well as blasphemous words, which insulted believers.
The young women face up to seven years if convicted on hooliganism charges in the case that split Russian society with some saying the punishment should be harsh and others saying the women only committed an ethical wrongdoing, which should not punished by prison terms. The three women have been in jail since February, when the performance took place. They say their song was against what they called church support for Putin’s presidential election campaign.
“Or if they had gone to the Caucasus, desecrated a Muslim sacred thing, we would have even been unable to take them into custody,” Putin went on.
“Still, I do not think they should be judged that harshly for that,” the president said.
“I hope they will make certain conclusions themselves. Nevertheless, it is up to the court to make the final ruling,” he said.
Putin, who was in London on a one-day visit for talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron and judo competitions, said he hopes the court will make “the right decision.”
The Russian leader said he and Cameron had not discussed the issue at their Thursday meeting.
Prior to Putin’s visit to London, British newspapers called on Putin to free “political prisoners,” including the punk band members. The addresses were signed by British officials and cultural figures.
Members of Pussy Riot, whose “punk prayer” took place next to the Christ the Savior Cathedral’s main altar, which is off-limits to all but priests, have called their performance in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral an “ethical mistake,” but pleaded not guilty to charges of hooliganism.