MOSCOW — Lawyers for three jailed members of the punk band Pussy Riot began making the case before a Moscow appeals court on Wednesday that the women should not be imprisoned for their irreverent protest against President Vladimir Putin.
Their impromptu performance inside Moscow's main cathedral in February came shortly before Putin was elected to a third term. The three women, whose "punk prayer" asked Virgin Mary to save Russia from Putin, were convicted in August of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two years in prison.
The verdict was condemned in the U.S. and Europe, where it was seen as an illustration of Putin's intensifying crackdown on dissent after his return to the presidency after four years as prime minister.
Putin, however, recently said the court ruled correctly because "It is impermissible to undermine our moral foundations, moral values, to try to destroy the country." Defense lawyers said Putin's remarks amounted to pressure on the appeals court.
The Moscow City Court began Wednesday's hearing by dismissing defense motions, including one to call more witnesses to the performance inside Christ the Savior Cathedral.
The three defendants were present in the courtroom, seated inside a glass cage known colloquially as the "aquarium."