An activist holds a poster depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin in support of members of the female punk band Pussy Riot during a protest rally at the Venceslas Square in Prague
Credits: REUTERS/David W Cerny
OTTAWA -- The Russian Orthodox Church High Council has asked authorities to show clemency for the three young women sentenced Friday to two years each in prison for performing a "punk rock prayer" at a Moscow Catholic church, according to media reports.
"Casting no doubt on the legitimacy of the court's decision, we appeal to the public authorities to show mercy, within the law, on the convicted in the hope they will never repeat such blasphemous actions," said a statement released by the church's High Council.
The statement came only hours after three members of the Russian feminist punk rock band Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alekhina, 24 and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, were sentenced.
The case sparked protests in major cities across Canada and around the world.
The trio were arrested and charged with hooliganism driven by religious hate in March after a stunt in which they burst into a Catholic church in Moscow in bright clothes and balaclavas and asked the Virgin Mary to spare Russia from its leader Vladimir Putin.
The appeal from the church is particularly striking considering the close relationship between the Orthodox church and Russian state, Pereira said.
"In Russia the church is an agent of the state," Pereira said.
Questions have been raised on whether the Canadian government should have done more after an interview on Russian TV of Tolokonnikova being interrogated showed a Canadian government permanent residency card in her name.
MPs from all parties have lamented the sentence.
NDP MP Paul Dewar said it was unfortunate the government could not do more to help her. Their sentence will seem harsh to Canadians, who "feel there is a role for dissent; that the government and courts need to have a measured response to dissent."
Tory MP Chris Alexander said in a media interview, "We are worried when we hear a judge in case like this using a connection to Canada as additional grounds for her guilt. That doesn't sound like due process."
Citizenship and Immigration said permanent residency does not provide the same consular services afforded to Canadian citizens - itself often limited.
Tolokonnikova is married to a Russian-Canadian and has a four-year-old daughter.
Foreign Affairs says it is aware of reports "that a permanent resident of Canada has been arrested in Russia." But the government declined to comment further, citing privacy reasons.
In what Norman Pereira, head of the Russian studies department at Dalhousie University, described as a politically savvy move, Putin said publicly the women shouldn't be judged too harshly. In part because of Putin's "political astuteness and shrewdness," Pereira believes there is hope for an appeal.
"Especially if there's enough media attention," he said.
Pussy Riot may not be a significant issue for Russia-Canada relations, but Pereira said the case is "worth Stephen Harper mentioning" when he travels to Russia next month. The EU issued a statement on the case, while Canada did not.