MOSCOW -- The three members of a Russian female punk rock band who staged a colorful protest against Russian leader Vladimir Putin in a church here earlier this year were each sentenced on Friday to two years in prison on convictions of premeditated hooliganism.
The musicians, whose band is named Pussy Riot, have already been jailed for more than five months after having entered a Russian Orthodox cathedral in February dressed in festive outfits and hoods to perform what they termed a "punk prayer" asking that the Virgin Mary "drive Putin away."
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, had faced up to seven years behind bars on charges of a premeditated act of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. The trio, whose supporters held rallies across Europe on Friday to protest the sentencing, had pleaded not guilty.
The case has generated international human rights concerns and following the sentencing, Amnesty International strongly condemned the results as a "bitter blow" for freedom of expression in Russia.
In their February protest, the band members, garbed in sleeveless dresses and hoods with eyeholes, performed their act of political theater in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral before being hustled away by guards.
At their more than three-hour court hearing Friday, the handcuffed rockers stood in a bulletproof cage as the verdict and sentence were read. At one point, loud punk rock music could be heard inside the courtroom, coming from a stereo in an apartment window across from the courthouse. Police rushed to cut off the electricity.
The defendants "blatantly violated the public order in an Orthodox temple insulting the believers and causing them deep moral harm," the verdict read.
-- Sergei L. Loiko
Photo: A supporter of the punk band Pussy Riot wears a mask during a rally in St. Petersburg on Friday. Credit: Olga Maltseva / AFP / Getty Images