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Three Pussy Riot members sentenced to two years behind bars

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Guilty.

The three accused and their lawyer weren’t surprised. They’d anticipated the outcome long before the judge rendered his verdict on Friday in Russia.

They were sentenced to two years in prison by Moscow’s Khamovnichesky District Court.

It all began on February 21 when, in a priests-only section of Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior, three members of Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk-rock musical collective, staged an impromptu anti-Putin performance which lasted about a minute.

One week after the performance, an edited video piece appeared on Youtube and a week later the police were instructed to arrest the group’s known members.

Maria Alekhina, 24, the mother of 5 year-old boy, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, the mother of 4 year-old girl and Ekaterina Samucevich, 29, were charged with hooliganism.

Since March 4, the women have sat in pre-trial detention.

In court, the women said that they were protesting the Orthodox Church's support for Putin and didn't intend to offend religious believers.

Following the judge’s verdict, the protests began immediately.

“Hundreds of Pussy Riot supporters waiting outside the Moscow courtroom chanted ‘Down with the police state’ when the sentence was announced,” said CBC News. “Dozens were detained, including several opposition leaders.”

In Toronto, several protesters wore orange, pink, grey or blue stockings over their heads with holes cut out for their eyes and mouth, similar to the ones worn by Pussy Riot on February 21. 

The sound of bagpipes blasted out near the southeast corner of Bloor and Church streets, outside the Russian Consulate.

On the sidewalk curb, a young woman dressed in black scrawled “Free Pussy Riot” in chalk.

Amidst the crowd, a Russian woman carried a sign that read “Vladimir Pussy. Free Riot Now.”

She came to Canada seven years ago.

“If it had been in Canada or the United States, they would have been forced to pay a fine and maybe do some community service,” said Danara Dourdoussova. 

“In Russia, they were about to go to jail for seven years. And now it’s (only) two years because of actions like these.”

Dourdoussova said what happened to Pussy Riot is only the tip of the iceberg.

“It’s happening on a larger scale to ordinary citizens,” she said. “There are hundreds of people in jail right now in Russia on fabricated cases and this is just an example of it.”

A few hundred protesters occupied the corner, huddled together, while the media conducted interviews, took photos and shot video.

Shortly after noon, the group began a chorus of chants: “Free Pussy Riot” and “Free Speech. Don’t Try It.You’ll Go To Jail Like Pussy Riot.”

But the chanting broke off almost as quickly as it started.

Nearby, a masked woman chalked “Free Pussy Riot” on the red skirt of another woman whose face was concealed under an orange stocking.

Several others produced chalk-written messages on the sidewalk in connection with free speech andrepression.

And then the speeches began.

Rally organizer Lynn Flatley encouraged anyone to step up and speak their mind about the Pussy Riot verdict.

“This is a case that really exemplifies the dangers for any nation in violating church state separation and mixing religion with the strong arm of government,” said Justin Trottier from the Centre for Inquiry, an organization dedicated to fostering a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.

“Pussy Riot succeeded in letting the world know just how dangerous those ties are.”

Three years ago, Alexandra Grishanova came to Canada from Russia. She attended Friday’s rally in Toronto because she wants the whole world to know what’s happening in her home country.

“There is no justice in that country,” said Grishanova.

“The decisions that are made by judges are politically motivated. This wasn’t about religion. It was fabricating so they could throw in jail some girls who stepped on the toes of a patriarch and the president.”

Then a man stepped out of the crowd, gripped the megaphone and reminded the group that what happened in Russia is “terrible” but not to get sidetracked from what’s going on in Canada.

“Don’t be diverted,” said John Liss. “We have problems with human rights in Canada too.”

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