Anti-Putin punks go on hunger strike after court ruling
MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of female Russian punk band Pussy Riot, sits inside a defendants cage in a Moscow court, on July 4, 2012. AFP photo
Two members of the punk band "Pussy Riot" charged with hooliganism after singing an anti-Vladimir Putin song in a Russian church went on hunger strike today after what one said was an "unlawful" court ruling.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich swore off food after a Moscow court ruled Wednesday that they and their defence team had only five more days to study the case materials in a move lawyers said was a move to hasten their trial.
"I announce a hunger strike because it is unlawful," Tolokonnikova, wearing a T-shirt with the famous slogan of the Spanish Civil War, "No pasaran!" ("They shall not pass"), emblazoned across it.
"Until July 9th is not enough [time] for me. I will appeal. I think it is absolutely unlawful," she said in the Tagansky district court.
"I announce a hunger strike," Samutsevich also said after the court delivered a separate ruling on her.
In a repeat of the chaotic scenes that have marked most of the legal process against the three-member band, police detained around a dozen Pussy Riot supporters who gathered outside the court in central Moscow.
Those detained included three activists who locked themselves in a metal cage outside the courtroom before police cut the locks and whisked them away, an AFP correspondent said.
Tolokonnikova, Samutsevich and the group's third member Maria Alekhina were arrested after their band barged into Russia's main cathedral, Church of Christ the Saviour in February and have been detained since March.
The masked women sang a song calling for Putin's ouster and criticising the Russian Orthodox Church's close ties to the Kremlin.
The young women, two of whom have children, are charged with hooliganism by an organised group, an offence with a maximum jail term of seven years.
Defense attorney Nikolai Polozov said the defence team came under pressure from the investigation and denied claims that they sought to delay the trial.
"It is harder and harder for the investigation to answer what they are jailed for," he told AFP. "Basically their job now is to hold the trial as fast as possible, hand down a sentence and send them to a prison colony." The trio have now been held in pre-trial detention for around four months after their arrest in March in defiance of pleas from supporters for them to be released, with no firm sign over when the trial will start.
Their performance caused an uproar and has proved highly polarising in the predominantly Orthodox country.
Thousands of worshippers say the women desecrated holy relics kept in the church, while their supporters said the possible punishment would be exceptionally harsh.
The ruling comes after investigators appealed to bring forward the trial of the women, claiming lawyers are dragging out the case. "That will be enough time to read the materials," the judge said.
Over 100 of Russia's best known actors, directors and musicians including the much-loved actress Chulpan
Khamatova and the detective author Boris Akunin called for the women's release in an open letter last month. They said the women presented no "real danger" to society and that the criminal case against them compromised the Russian judicial system.
A Pussy Riot supporter wearing a T-shirt with a slogan saying "Virgin Mary hears us" expressed doubt that the high-profile support would help the arrested singers.
"I think the behaviour of the state is absolutely criminal in using the church to cover up their acts. This is a deeply political case," historian Yelena Glushko said outside the courtroom.