NEWS
16/08/2012 18:01 BST | Updated 17/08/2012 05:18 BST

Pussy Riot Punk Protesters Learn Their Fate For Anti-Putin Moscow Church Demonstration

Five women wearing neon balaclavas who stormed the altar of Moscow's cathedral in a "punk protest" against Russia's president Vladimir Putin will learn their fate Friday, in a case which has split the country on free speech, political expression and blasphemy.

On trial are three feminist rockers Pussy Riot, who have garnered support from Madonna, Paul McCartney to Jarvis Cocker, expected to face prison terms for "hooliganism".

The case has come to symbolise the fight for political freedom in Russia, with the verdict expected on the 100th day of Putin's second presidency.

Protests are planned worldwide in support of Pussy Riot

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, and Maria Alyokhina, 24, have been charged with "hooliganism" motivated by religious hatred.

They have been in prison since March after their protest at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, where they called on the Virgin Mary to deliver Russia from Putin.

State prosecutor Alexei Nikiforov called the trio "abusers of God" and requested a three-year sentence for the women in a prison colony.

Samutsevich said in her closing statement: "I now have mixed feelings about this trial. On the one hand, we expect a guilty verdict. Compared to the judicial machine, we are nobodies, and we have lost.

"On the other hand, we have won. The whole world now sees that the criminal case against us has been fabricated.

"The system cannot conceal the repressive nature of this trial. Once again, the world sees Russia differently than the way Putin tries to present it at his daily international meetings.

"Clearly, none of the steps Putin promised to take toward instituting the rule of law has been taken.

Protesters plan to wear the punk band's trademark coloured balaclavas

"And his statement that this court will be objective and hand down a fair verdict is yet another deception of the entire country and the international community.

The case has been criticised by British MPs, the US State Department, the French culture minister and German politicians. Protests are planned across the globe on Friday afternoon.

Topless feminist FEMEN came out to support Russian punk band Pussy Riot as part of a series of demonstrations around the world aimed at helping the detained trio.

Holding signs saying 'f**k Putin' and 'Free Pussy Riot', the protesters were detained outside Russian consulate in Sao Paulo, Brazil by civil police officers.

Amnesty International is organising a demonstration at the Russian Embassy in Melville Street, Edinburgh, on Friday at midday, just as the verdict in the trial of Russian singers from punk band Pussy Riot, is expected to be announced.

Amnesty considers the three women to be prisoners of conscience, detained "solely for the peaceful expression of their beliefs." The organisation is calling for their immediate release.

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The trial centres on a performance at a Moscow cathedral by the punk band, who used it to criticise President Putin

People attending the demonstration will be wearing the singers’ trademark fluorescent balaclavas .

The Royal Court theatre is hosting a free reading of the closing statements of the three punk stars at 11am on Friday, directed by Simon Godwin and Caroline Steinbels.

Artistic director Dominic Cooke said: "The Pussy Riot trial is of concern to those who believe that the right of artists to question the actions of the state is central to an egalitarian society.

"As a London home for theatre artists to ask challenging questions, the Royal Court feels like the obvious place for the women’s words to be heard in English.”

Activists are expected to take to the streets from 10am, an hour before the judge is due to issue the verdict. Protesters will gather outside the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Stravinsky Square in Paris and various venues in Marseille, Nice, Lyons and Montpellier. Others will gather in New York's Times Square.

A verdict is expected in the Pussy Riot trial on Friday

Sir Paul McCartney has written to Pussy Riot, telling them to "stay strong" and saying he would do everything in his power to help.

"I hope you can stay strong and believe that I and many others like me who believe in free speech will do everything in our power to support you and the idea of artistic freedom. Wishing you the very best of luck, Paul McCartney."

Labour MP Kerry McCarthy, who attended the Pussy Riot trial, wrote in a blog for The Huffington Post UK: "The defence lawyers say that it is not the judge who will decide, it is Putin himself. The world is watching while he makes up his mind."

Danger of real violence after the verdict has been rumoured in the Russian media. Russian authorities said bodyguards had been assigned to protect the judge, Marina Syrova, after unspecified threats.

The Moscow city court system has handed down not-guilty verdicts in just 239 of the 35,626 cases tried in court in 2011.

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