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Russia feminist activists appeal 2-year prison sentence

The lawyer for three members of the Russian feminist activist group Pussy Riot on Monday appealed the two-year sentences imposed on the women last week. Defense lawyer Nikolai Polozov conceded that the decision of the Khamovnichesky District Court of Moscow has little chance of being reversed [Reuters report] due to the Russian government's interest in the case, but he expressed hope that the sentences would be shortened or made conditional. Polozov has not limited the range of the appeal to Russian courts, as he has consistently expressed an intent to appeal [RAPSI report] both the verdict and the alleged rights violations that occurred during trial to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website].

Pussy Riot's controversial trial ended [JURIST report] on August 17 with a guilty verdict and two-year prison sentences for each of the three women. Specifically, band members Natalia Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich were found guilty of "hooliganism" in the form of religious hatred, a charge based on the group's "guerrilla performance" of a protest song in February at the altar of Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. Though the charge carries a maximum sentence of seven years, prosecutors originally requested sentences of three years [JURIST report]. The prosecution of Pussy Riot has been criticized as a politically motivated move by Russian President Vladimir Putin [official website; JURIST news archive] to discredit his opposition. Although defense lawyers for the band requested that the judge recuse herself [JURIST report] from the case due to politically motivated decisions, Judge Marina Syrova declined even hearing the motion for her recusal. The women were arrested in March, and their trial began [JURIST report] at the end of July.

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