19 Aug 2012

Mercy to punk band urged by church

5:57 pm on 19 August 2012

The Orthodox Church in Russia has urged the government to show mercy to the three members of Pussy Riot, who have been sentenced to two years in prison for hooliganism.

The punk band trio were arrested for performing a protest song against Vladimir Putin in a cathedral in Moscow in February.

Mr Putin was elected for a third term as president of Russia two weeks later.

The United States and the European Union say the sentences are disproportionate and Amnesty International says they must be overturned.

The human rights group says the women should not have been sentenced to prison.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said the sentences were "excessively harsh".

Russia's Orthodox Church said the performance, which implored the Virgin Mary to "throw Putin out", was a "blasphemy".

But in a statement, it asked the state to show mercy to the convicted ''in the hopes that they will refrain from repeating their sacrilegious acts''.

Mr Putin himself has said the defendants should not be judged too harshly, but the Kremlin says the president could not interfere in the judicial process.