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3 Pussy Riot supporters detained near Moscow church

August 15, 2012, 11:47 UTC+3

The action lasted for several seconds before the Church guards broke it up

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MOSCOW, August 15 (Itar-Tass) — Moscow police detained three persons near the Christ the Savior Church in the center of the Russian capital for attempted unsanctioned rally in support of the Pussy Riot punk group, a law-enforcement officer told Itar-Tass on Wednesday.

"The church guards detained three young men in cloaks who tried to carry out an action in support of Pussy Riot," the source said.

A group of police officers went to the scene to bring the detainees to a police department. The police did not name the exact number of the Pussy Riot supporters.

A co-founder of the Voters' League Rustem Agadamov who was present at the action, told Tass that "a group of young people was standing on the Church steps; they put on balaclavas and held letters to form the phrase "Blessed are the Merciful." The action lasted for several seconds before the Church guards broke it up.

Moscow's Khamovniki court will hand down the verdict for Pussy Riot participants Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich on August 17. They are accused of hooliganism at the Christ the Savior Church earlier this year.

The verdict is due to at 15:00, Moscow time, judge Marina Syrova said.

The prosecutor earlier demanded three years in a general regime penitentiary for the three defendants. Two of nine injured parties asked the court to give the defendants suspended sentences. The investigators say the action was not political, as the defendants maintained, but aimed at insulting Orthodox believers, prosecutor Alexander Nikiforov said, underlining that preliminary investigation bodies had correctly classified the defendants’ actions as" obvious provocation, aimed at fanning religious hate."

The defendant's lawyers asked to clear their clients of charges of hooliganism.

Their actions can only be classified under Article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offenses /insulting religious feelings of citizens or desecration of objects they venerate"/. There is no such corpus delicti as blasphemy. There is no place for the norms of the Criminal Code in this case," lawyer Mark Feigin stated.

In her final statement, the key defendant, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, called the legal proceedings "an imitation of trial." Her colleagues supported her.

It took the court six days to hear the case on the merits. Tolokonnikova, Samutsevich and Alyokhina acknowledged participation in the punk prayer but stated they had nothing to do with videoing or placing it on the Internet. They also claimed the action was aimed to criticize government bodies and the Church leadership, and that they had never meant to hurt the believers.

But the injured parties /mostly the Church attendants/ said the action had hurt their feelings. All the nine injured parties, however, said they would not seek a legal action against the Pussy Riot members.

On February 21, five masked young women in brightly colored clothes appeared in the Christ the Savior Church, ran onto the ambon before the altar and performed an indecent song for several minutes using the amplifiers they had brought along. They also shouted insults against the clergy and believers, as well as against the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Kirill.

They ignored the rebukes by the church attendants and believers, and fled as guards tried to detain them.

Police opened a criminal case under Article 21, Part 2 of Russia's Criminal Code /hooliganism/ which envisions a penalty of up to seven years.

Pussy Riot later claimed responsibility for the action. The group is notorious for similar actions such as the one in Red Square. The punk group placed on Live Journal a video report of the church prank.

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