MOSCOW (AP) — Three jailed members of the punk band Pussy Riot told a Moscow appeals court on Wednesday that they should not be imprisoned for their irreverent protest against President Vladimir Putin, insisting that their impromptu performance inside Moscow's main cathedral was political in nature and not an attack on religion.
Dressed in neon-colored miniskirts and tights, with homemade balaclavas on their heads, the women performed a "punk prayer" asking Virgin Mary to save Russia from Putin as he headed into a March election that would hand him a third term. They were convicted in August of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two years in prison.
"We didn't mean to offend anyone," said Maria Alekhina, who along with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich spoke in court from inside a glass cage known colloquially as the "aquarium." She said they were protesting Putin and also the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy for openly supporting his rule.
"We went to the cathedral to express our protest against the joining of the political and spiritual elites," Alekhina said.
The case has been condemned in the U.S. and Europe, where it has been seen as an illustration of Putin's intensifying crackdown on dissent after his return to the presidency after four years as prime minister.
Putin, however, recently said the court ruled correctly because "It is impermissible to undermine our moral foundations, moral values, to try to destroy the country." Defense lawyers said Putin's remarks amounted to pressure on the appeals court.
"I want a court ruling on President Putin on the inadmissibility of his meddling" in the court case, defense lawyer Mark Feigin said.
The church has said it would ask for clemency for the three women if they repented. But the defendants said Wednesday that they could not repent because they harbored no religious hatred and demanded that the conviction be overturned.
The Moscow City Court began Wednesday's hearing by dismissing two defense motions, including one to call more witnesses to the performance inside Christ the Savior Cathedral.
The appeal was postponed from Oct. 1 after one of the defendants, Samutsevich, fired her lawyers. Prosecutors criticized the move as a delaying tactic.
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