Who are Pussy Riot and why has Putin put them on trial?

A colourful group of young women have challenged the power of Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church

LAST UPDATED AT 08:54 ON Mon 30 Jul 2012

THREE MEMBERS of the Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot go on trial today accused of religious hatred. The three young women face up to seven years in prison if convicted of the alleged offence, committed in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

The potential punishment is seen by many as excessively strict, and proof that President Vladimir Putin has learned nothing from the huge street protests against his re-election earlier this year. However, the trial has the support of the powerful Russian Orthodox Church.

WHO ARE PUSSY RIOT?
A feminist punk collective comprising about 10 women aged between 20 and 33 who wear trademark brightly coloured balaclavas, tights and short skirts.

They formed about a year ago as a reaction to the announcement that Vladimir Putin, then prime minister, would run in presidential elections, despite having served two consecutive terms from 2000 to 2008. Besides campaigning for women's rights, the band also call for political freedom and reform of the justice system.

Pussy Riot's most notable 'gigs' have been a concert in Red Square in January, when they wore skimpy outfits despite the bitter cold, and the 'punk prayer' they performed in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which led to the arrest and trial of three members.

WHAT ARE PUSSY RIOT ACCCUSED OF?
In February 2012, Pussy Riot filmed themselves performing a 'punk prayer' called Holy Shit from the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (see video below).

The lyrics of the song called for the Virgin Mary to throw Putin out and criticised alleged corruption in the Orthodox Church.

Seven members of Pussy Riot were arrested, but only three are on trial. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29 - or Nadia, Masha and Katya - are accused of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility".

WHY DID PUSSY RIOT TARGET A CHURCH?
The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is a symbol of government corruption to many Russians, explains Pyotr Verzilov, the husband of Nadia.

It was blown up in the 1930s and later turned into a swimming pool. After the fall of Communism, Moscow's mayor, Yury Luzhkov, raised $1bn from organised crime to restore the cathedral.

"It became a very important governmental symbol," Verzilov told The Observer. "And it's supposed to be the most sacred place in Russia. But it's very commercialised: there's a massive parking garage under it, and banqueting halls you can hire out for $10,000 a day.

"More than this, though, is how the church has started to act as if it is the propaganda wing of the government. Before the election, Patriarch Kirill said that it was 'un-Christian' to demonstrate. And then he said that Putin had been placed at the head of the government 'by God'. No one was talking about this before. And now everybody is."

WHAT ARE PEOPLE SAYING ABOUT PUSSY RIOT?
Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, called the punk prayer "blasphemous". He said: "We have no future if we allow mocking in front of great shrines, and if some see such mocking as some sort of valour, as an expression of political protest, as an acceptable action or a harmless joke."

Putin himself has called the punk prayer "disgusting", according to Russia Today.

The women's lawyers have branded the proceedings a "show trial" and "the theatre of the absurd", while members of Pussy Riot who remain at large told The Observer: "Putin is scared of us, can you imagine? Scared of girls."

DO RUSSIANS SUPPORT PUSSY RIOT?
More than 100 famous Russian actors and cultural figures have urged Putin to release the three - and more than 40,000 ordinary Russians have signed the petition. Thousands of Orthodox Christians and Catholics have called on Patriarch Kirill to change his position and support the release of the Pussy Riot three.

Pussy Riot's cause is also starting to make Westerners sit up and take notice. Amnesty has described Nadia, Masha and Katya as prisoners of conscience.

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If "The Week" is going to give its readers a "Briefing" on a subject, then it would be best to get the facts right - at least. The Cathedral is a most wonderful building. It is a great credit to the Russians that they've rebuilt it in recent years. It's an example for other civilised countries whose architecture has been allowed to become so banal and pointless, and so lacking in quality, and constructed for short term profit.
This is a piece of stupid impudence by the women, deliberately insulting, sensationalist and negative. In this instance reasonable people will support the prosecution of them. There's no need to contaminate a cathedral with brittle political antics that are designed merely to shock and distress others who do have Christian beliefs.

"It was blown up by Stalin in the 1960s" - Salin was dead by 1960s - I do wish journalists check their facts before writing - at least do a simple internet search. It was blown up in early 1930s. A giant communis was going to be built on top of the site, but the ground was later found to be too unstable for a big construction project (cursed, as some said) and swimming pool was built instead.

I remember the stone fragments of the original cathedral in the Donskoi cemetery and looking at the site in early 90s, when churches were just beginning to re-open after relentless destruction and persecution of over 70 years.

Some years later I visited the cathedral (rebuilt by rather dubious architects whose other projects have been known to collapse, using dubious funds and pinted by sub-par artists inside) and seeing in it a rather beautiful icon of the Russian new-martyrs in a place of honour marvelled at the paradoxes of history.

How would these people slaughtered by the bolsheviks and the KGB for their faith view the actions of the descendants of their executioners - with their totalitarian, anti-Christian mentality, totally at odds with the actual teaching of the Gospel and the Church? Both the government and the Russian church is ran by people with KGB background/connections, who like using the revival in faith in Russia to boost and consolidate their own power, with a mentality set to destroy anyone who is not seen as part of their camp and chain of command.

It's sad beyond words.

The girls are in prison because Putin took personal offence at their actions, and church officials, eager to please him, are giving justification to what is going on.

But there is some hope in that quite a substantial number of the actual Russian Orthodox people do not support what's happening - even those who think the girls should be punished say it should be a fine or community work for hooliganism not the overkill of 7 years in prison and the media circus that's sprung around this case. Only borderline fanatics would fail to see that the stance taken by the officials in this case has been much more damaging to the image of the church than any supposed blasphemy committed by the stunt the girls pulled.

Thanks for your comments and apologies for the mistake. It has now been corrected.

Mistake has now been corrected?? Which mistake has been corrected? As Random says, Stalin was dead by the 1960s, and so on. He died in 1953 and the Cathedral was destroyed twenty years before that.....

Hmmm! Next will be him getting declared 'Sun King'! Since when did God get the vote in politics? I think that's along the lines the girl's are getting at. Itchy scratchy so to speak. You scratch mine I'll scratch yours.

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