MOSCOW, August 7 – RAPSI, Ingrid Burke. The prosecution seeks sentences of three years each for three members of the punk rock collective who stand accused of having committed hooliganism in central Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral. The prosecution announced its decision during pleadings on the seventh day of proceedings.

Prosecutor speaking

The prosecutor claimed that it has been proven that the girls are guilty of hooliganism, and stated that it is necessary that the defendants serve "real time" in jail. He charged that the punk prayer was carefully premeditated, to the extent that the girls actually practiced it beforehand in another church. He explained that the defendants placed themselves in opposition to the Orthodox world, and delivered a laundry list of other historical bouts of persecution endured by the Russian Orthodox Church.

When the prosecution announced its desired sentences, the defendents looked shaken, smiling sadly.

Aggrieved parties stance

Attorney for the aggrieved parties Larisa Pavlova generally agreed with the prosecution's request, but emphasized that the Pussy Riot punk prayer rose to a level higher than standard hooliganism. In Pavlova's view, hooliganism often arises spontaneously. The girls, according to Pavlova, premeditated the punk prayer. Thus Pavlova fears that they may be susceptible to committing hooliganism all over again if the sentence is not sufficiently deterrent.

She added that by pumping their fists in the air while performing the punk prayer, the girls evidenced a disregard for Orthodox believers.

Pavlova drew the courtoom's attention to mitigating factors listed by the prosecution, such as the fact that two of the defendants are mothers, and that the three have generally favorable personal characteristics. She then rebutted the latter assessment by referencing a past protest action that Tolokonnikova and her husband engaged in, which - though unrelated to the case - has received recent notoriety.

Pavlova then questioned the legitimacy of Alyokhina's university education, criticizing the school's curriculum for featuring more courses on the history of secret cultural doctrines than on the history of Russia. Because of this, Pavlova supports the prosecution's sentencing request generally, but requests that the court issue a mandate that universities must pay closer attention to preventing their students from engaging in activities amounting to hooliganism.

After Pavlova finished speaking, co-counself for the aggrieved parties Alexei Taratukhin addressed a point made throughout the course of the trial by the defense, and reiterated in an open letter written by a group of famous lawyers who came out in support of Pussy Riot late last week, that their action in the cathedral did not constitute hooliganism. He asked what else other than religious hatered the performance could have been motivated by, and concluded, "by process of elimination, there is nothing else." Ultimately, however, Taratukhin mentioned that one of the aggrieved parties has requested that the girls be sentenced only to two years probation so that they might return to their young children. Another, however, believes the sentencing should be purely within the court’s discretion.

A third attorney for the aggrieved parties, Lev Lyalin, made clear from the beginning his disregard for the heavy media scrutiny that has permeated these proceedings. In his view, some journalists have made it their mission to paint the defendants as the victims. "Their actions were not of feminism, but of nihilism," he chided, before inviting those interested in the true - in his view - motive underlying the punk prayer to take up reading Nietzsche. He then launched into various tales from the bible, a religious poem, and a brief history of Christ the Savior Cathedral. He concluded by pointing out that one of the aggrieved parties believes that the girls should receive two years’ probation in order to reunite them with their children as soon as possible, but that the rest care only that justice is served.

The defense perspective

Unsurprisingly, Violetta Volkova expressed outrage at the prosecution’s request and addressed the courtroom with a wide array of discontents.  Most importantly, she made clear her intention to appeal the Pussy Riot girls’ sentence - once handed down - to the European Court of Human Rights. She believes that the ECHR will find the following to have posed procedural issues during the course of the trial: the judge’s refusal to respect motions filed by the defense; a general lack of transparency; insufficient time granted to the defense to prepare tor trial; insufficient access to evidence; a lack of adequate attorney/client consultation time; and hunger, sleep deprivation, and humiliation endured by the Pussy Riot girls throughout the trial process. She further voiced her shame at the prosecutor’s speech, saying that she had gone Through the Looking Glass, in reference to Lewis Carroll’s surreal classic. She charged that the prosecution breached its duty as a representative of the government to uphold justice by failing to draw attention to the defendants’ aforementioned suffering. Volkova believes that the authorities dealt the Russian Orthodox Church a crushing blow by way of these proceedings, having essentially returned it to the middle ages. Finally, she pointed to the categorization of the girls as “prisoners of conscience” by international human rights organizations.

Volkova’s co-counsel Mark Feigin addressed the courtroom next. He began by acknowledging the shocking and controversial nature of the punk prayer, but argued that the offense was of an administrative, rather than a criminal nature. He argued that the girls merely offended religious believers, but that this did not rise to the level of hooliganism, as there was no violent behavior; no imposition of societal danger. He then criticized the evidence, pointing to the fact that the origins of the video clip that formed the basis for the girls’ indictment remained unknown. Furthermore, he pointed to the fact that none of the witnesses were examined by a doctor, and that their damages thus could not be assessed objectively. He criticized the political nature of the proceedings, explaining: “The participants in this trial—our defendants—are facing real jail time. It is the opposition that decided to protest against this.” He urged the necessity to maintain a healthy separation between church and state, pointing out that, “Blasphemy and sacrilege are not in the criminal code.” Echoing Volkova’s same concern, he warned that if the girls are convicted, Russia risks devolving to the Middle Ages. Finally, he stated that the whole justice system has endeavored from the start to compel the girls to give up their personalities, and that they are too strong to do so. The courtroom erupted in applause when he finished his speech.

What happened

Group members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich remained in pretrial detention since their early March arrest for an incident that some have lauded as a valid exercise of free speech, and that others have lambasted as blasphemous. Group members face up to seven years in prison.

On February 21, five girls wearing brightly colored masks stormed the altar of downtown Moscows Christ the Savior Cathedral to perform a protest song entitled, "Holy Sh*t."