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Camurati: Pussy Riot doesn't deserve prison

Members of the all-girl punk band

Members of the all-girl punk band "Pussy Riot" Yekaterina Samutsevich, left, Maria Alyokhina, center, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass-walled cage during a court hearing in Moscow. (August 17, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

When the Dixie Chicks criticized the president in 2003, they at least chose to do it out of George W. Bush's territory…and not in a place of worship.

The three members of female punk rock group Pussy Riot were sentenced Friday to two years in prison in Moscow after they "committed hooliganism driven by religious hatred." What they really did was protest the impending election of Vladimir Putin, and now their persecution is spurring real riots from Paris to Washington.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich stood handcuffed in a glass cage for hours while the verdict was read, just as they had for all court proceedings, like zoo animals. The judge's sentence resembled the emblazoned speech of a religious figure, and the whole ordeal conjures images of modern-day witch trials.

The group was arrested in March after an unwelcome performance in Moscow's main Orthodox cathedral, begging the Virgin Mary to save the country from Putin's reign. Putin himself, known for his lack of empathy or emotion, said the group should not be judged harshly, but many saw the avant-garde performance as an attack on the church instead of an expression of political beliefs.

While the performance was, indeed, at the altar of Christ the Saviour Cathedral and disrespectful to those there to worship, the message in the lyrics was very clear: "St. Maria, Virgin, drive away Putin!"

Sounds like a prayer to me — though maybe a bit unorthodox. The group has repeatedly stated that the protest had nothing to do with religion and apologized to any members who were offended.

If the same performance had been staged in a museum or restaurant, most wouldn't have considered it a blasphemous attack — just an opinionated song about the future of their country. Because that’s what it is.

Church and state are formally separate in Russia, but with the Orthodox Church being such a major force in the country, its agenda can weave its way into secular court. Well-known Russian author Boris Akunin is shocked by his government's choice to condemn performers for "devilish movements" while quoting medieval church doctrine.

When the Dixie Chicks bashed the president's plans for Iraq during a concert in England, they weren't arrested upon their arrival to American soil -- some people just stopped buying their music. The group racked up five Grammys and millions of album sales after that, possibly benefiting from the stunt more than suffering.

Pussy Riot should’ve been so lucky.
 

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