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Russian Judge: Punk Band Sentenced To Two Years


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm David Greene. In Russia today, a judge has delivered a guilty verdict for three members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot. The band members were given a two-year sentence. They were found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, after staging a protest in Moscow's main cathedral last February.

The women said they were protesting the cozy relationship between top Russian Orthodox officials and Vladimir Putin, who at the time was running for re-election as Russian president. The trial has drawn intense international attention along with appeals for mercy; from foreign leaders and also, pop icons like Sting, Madonna and Paul McCartney. NPR's Corey Flintoff is outside the courtroom in Moscow, and he joins us on the line. And Corey, give us a sense of what the judge just said.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: David, the judge - well, it was expected that the judge would find these three members of the band guilty. But a great many people here did not expect that she would sentence them to two years in prison. The sentence calls for them to serve their prison terms in a minimum security - basically, a work camp, which is a common form of imprisonment in Russia. They've already served a bit more than five months while they were awaiting trial. When we heard the verdict come down, there was a - just a - we heard a wave of groans and catcalls and whistles, across this entire crowd. And people were, clearly, disappointed and angry. I think a great many people expected that the women would be found guilty, but they expected that the sentence would be limited to time served.

GREENE: There was expectation, Corey, that there would be maybe, you know, large protests if they were found guilty and sentenced. I mean, is that - are you seeing that already? Is that possible in Moscow, and elsewhere in Russia?

FLINTOFF: No, you know, we've talked to a number of people here, including the leaders of various human rights groups and opposition leaders. And they have said that they don't expect violent protests here. But they do believe that this decision and, in fact, the way this trial was conducted, will just lead to deeper and deeper divisions in the society. That's something that we heard over and over again. So they expect that, you know, the opposition will be growing.

GREENE: Well, Corey, Vladimir Putin, often seen as stifling dissent, and going after the opposition and critics in Russia; a lot of people around the world, pointing to this trial as fresh evidence of that. Is there a possibility that the Russian government will really see its image tarnished, in a way?

FLINTOFF: I think so. You know, and that's something that we've also heard from people that we talked to here. They know that there's been a lot of international attention to this trial. People see it as representative of a trend in government, now that Vladimir Putin has won re-election as president. They see a trend to stifle dissent here, and this is the symbol of it. So actually, this - this has - you can hear people chanting in the background...

GREENE: Yeah, you sure can.

FLINTOFF: ...right now. This has unified people here, and angered them. And they want their story to be told as widely as possible.

GREENE: All right. And just to recap the news, three members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot - in Russia - have been sentenced to two years in prison. They were found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. And we've been speaking to NPR correspondent Corey Flintoff, in Moscow. Corey, thanks so much.

FLINTOFF: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.