A Moscow court on Monday delayed an appellate hearing for three members of the Russian feminist activist group Pussy Riot [RASPI backgrounder; JURIST news archive] after band member Ekaterina Samutsevich unexpectedly fired her lawyer. The move led prosecutors to accuse the defense [RIA Novosti report] of causing deliberate delays. However defense lawyer Nikolai Polozov said that Samutsevich may have made the decision due to pressure from the government [RFE/RL report, in Russian]. Samutsevich's bandmates Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina declined to fire their lawyers but said that Samutsevich is acting within her legal rights. The trial is now scheduled to reconvene on October 10.
Pussy Riot band members Samutsevich, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina are serving two-year prison sentences after they were convicted [JURIST report] in August of hooliganism in connection with "guerrilla performance" of a protest song in February at the altar of downtown Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. Several days prior to the trial, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev [official website, in Russian] called for the release of the Pussy Riot band members, saying that time served has been severe enough and that any more time in prison would be counterproductive. The Russian Presidential Council on Human Rights [official website, in Russian] has questioned the legitimacy [JURIST report] of the court's verdict and sentence. Pussy Riot's defense lawyers moved [JURIST report] earlier in August to have one of the judges recuse herself from the case, saying her decisions are politically motivated. Since the beginning of the trial [JURIST report], the group's lawyers and human rights groups have said the charges were politically motivated by President Vladimir Putin [official website; JURIST news archive] to discredit his opposition.