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Russia rights council questions prison sentences for feminist activist band members

The Russian Presidential Council on Human Rights [official website, in Russian], an independent advisory body, on Tuesday questioned the legitimacy [statement, in Russian] of the recent guilty verdict and sentence for three members of the Russian feminist activist group Pussy Riot [RAPSI backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The rights council, whose members are appointed by the president, worries [AP report] that the legitimacy and justness of the band's sentence is questionable. The council took particular note of the harsh two-year sentence for the women, two of whom have small children, as well as the women being kept hand-cuffed and within a bullet-proof cage when the verdict was announced. The council, whose members were appointed by former President Dmitry Medvedev, maintains a purely advisory role and holds little political sway over President Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive].

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. Earlier this week, lawyers for the band appealed the sentence [JURIST report]. Specifically, band members Natalia Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich were found guilty of "hooliganism motivated by 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 Putin 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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