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Pussy Riot Make Final Pleas in Moscow Court

Jailed feminist punks await verdict for controversial church performance

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich sit inside a glass enclosure during a court hearing in Moscow.
NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/GettyImages
August 8, 2012 2:30 PM ET

Jailed feminist punk rockers Pussy Riot compared themselves to persecuted Soviet-era writers Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky on the final day of their trial in Moscow today. Their verdict is set for next Friday, August 17th.

"I, like Solzhenitsyn, believe that words will crush concrete," said Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, standing in front of a slit in the glass and metal cage where the band's three members have been held throughout their trial. "We sit in a cage, but we didn't lose. And the dissidents didn't lose. Disappearing in psychiatric wards and jails, they convicted the regime."

"At Brodsky's trial, his poems were also dubbed 'so-called poems' and weren't read – just like the witnesses just watched our video on the Internet," added another band member, Maria Alyokhina. "I am not afraid of you. You can take away my 'so-called' freedom, but you can never take my inner freedom."

The room exploded in applause after each of their speeches.

Tolokonnikova, 22, Alyokhina, 24 and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29 have been jailed since early March for performing a "punk prayer" in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral, asking the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of President Vladimir Putin on the eve of his re-election. International artists including Madonna, Patti Smith, Sting and Red Hot Chili Peppers have spoken out in defense of the band, as have human rights organizations including Amnesty International.

The eight-day trial – conducted in the same Moscow courtroom where jailed oil tycoon and Putin opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky was tried in 2005 – is widely seen as a political show trial meant to warn Russia's opposition against challenging Putin's authority.

Defense lawyers expect a guilty verdict for Pussy Riot. While prosecutors have requested three years in prison for each band member – less than the maximum seven years – the defense is hoping for a more lenient punishment. They have announced plans for a world-wide rally to support Pussy Riot on the day of the verdict.

A large crowd of reporters, Pussy Riot supporters and critics waited for the band to be escorted into a paddywagon after the trial. One man said that the rockers should be flogged: "They should not have gone inside the church."

Another musician who plays with Pussy Riot, who is hiding her identity to avoid arrest, began to argue with him. "Do you know what goes on at the Christ the Savior Cathedral?" she asked.

Finally, the band emerged, flanked by police and a Rotweiller that stopped to urinate near the paddywagon. The crowd cheered wildly. As the paddywagon drove up the street away from the courthouse, the crowd clapped, chanting "Freedom, freedom."

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