MOSCOW, March 6 - RAPSI. Human rights commissioner Vladimir Lukin has supported an appeal filed by the Pussy Riot defense team against the two-year sentence handed down to two of the group's members for performing their now infamous punk prayer at the altar of the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow in February 2012.

The Moscow City Court's Presidium has accepted the appeal for consideration, Kommersant daily writes.

The fact that Pussy Riot is entitled to yet another appeal is a distinguishing element of Russian law. The Moscow City Court's Presidium is going to check the validity of the verdict and the decision on the appeal which upheld the ruling. Actually, the Presidium won't consider the facts of the case. Rather it will focus on the procedure of the earlier trial itself. Any fault revealed might result in a repeal of the verdict and a remand of the case to the lower court.

The ombudsman also asks that the girls be pardoned.

According to the newspaper's sources, Lukin writes in his appeal that "the verdict does not include an assessment of the damage caused by the defendants' actions to public peace and the Christ the Savior Cathedral's day to day work."

In fact, the group members only violated "the internal rules of conduct in the given cathedral," which cannot be qualified as a gross violation of public order, Lukin writes. Furthermore, he believes that the prosecution did not prove that the defendants planned to cause religious offense, and hence the verdict must be quashed for being unjust.

According to Lukin's staff, he received over 50,000 appeals from people in 2011, many of them asking him to help revoke what they consider to be unjust verdicts.
Lukin's staff yesterday confirmed that the appeal had been filed but declined to comment on the matter.

In late February 2012, five young women wearing brightly colored balaclavas staged a "punk-style" prayer in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. An edited video of their performance was posted on the Internet and caused a public outcry.

Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich were arrested shortly thereafter. On August 17, 2012, the Khamovnichesky District Court in Moscow sentenced them to two years in a prison settlement for hooliganism.

On October 10, 2012, the Moscow City Court changed Samutsevich's verdict to a suspended sentence and released her immediately, based on her new attorneys' argument that she was seized by security guards prior to reaching the altar and therefore did not actually take part in the punk prayer performance.

Alyokhina's and Tolokonnikova's sentences were upheld.