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Russian prosecutors ask for prison for punk-rock demonstrators

MOSCOW — Prosecutors called on Tuesday for three-year sentences for the members of a feminist punk band who performed an anti-Vladimir Putin stunt in Moscow's main cathedral, ignoring demands by human rights groups that the three women be set free.

Defense lawyers and an influential Russian Orthodox cleric warned that jail time for the women could backfire by severing trust between ordinary Russians and the country's institutions.

Prosecutor Alexander Nikiforov portrayed his request as lenient, saying the recommendation takes into account the fact that two of the defendants are young mothers and that they have good character references.

The hooliganism charges the three women of the Pussy Riot band face can carry a sentence of up to 7 years in prison.

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The three women — Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23; Maria Alekhina, 24; and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29 — have been in custody for five months following the February stunt, in which they took over a church pulpit in Christ the Savior cathedral for less than a minute, singing, high-kicking, and dancing.

Their case is part of a widening government crackdown on dissent that followed Putin's election in March and caused strong protests in Russia and abroad. Musicians including Madonna, the Who's Pete Townshend, and Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys have urged their release.

The verdict is expected this week.

The defendants have said their goal was to express their resentment over Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill's support for Putin's rule. But prosecutors have insisted throughout the trial that there were no political motives behind the performance.

''They set themselves off against the Orthodox world and sought to devalue traditions and dogmas that have been formed for the centuries,'' Nikiforov said Tuesday.

Members of the band say they did not mean to hurt anyone's religious feelings.

Associated Press