Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has called for three members of the punk band Pussy Riot to be freed. Their case comes up for appeal on October 1st.
The band members were arrested for performing inside Moscow's main cathedral and asking Virgin Mary to save Russia from Vladimir Putin as he headed into the election that handed him a third term as president. They had already spent more than five months in jail when they were convicted in August of "hooliganism driven by religious hatred" and sentenced to two years in prison.
By being the one to call for the women's release, Medvedev, who has cultivated the image of a more liberal leader, could allow Putin to put the uncomfortable case behind him while not appearing weak.
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Medvedev said that the appearance of the women, who perform in bright-colored miniskirts and balaclavas, and the "hysteria" accompanying them made him sick, but he also said that keeping them in prison any longer would be "unproductive."
"In my view, a suspended sentence would be sufficient, taking into account the time they have already spent in custody," he said during a televised meeting with members of his United Russia party in the city of Penza.
The band members' imprisonment is a cause that has been taken up by celebrities and musicians, including Madonna and Paul McCartney, and protests have been held around the world.
Putin said the women should not be judged too harshly but the night before Medvedev spoke, state television aired a program denouncing Pussy Riot, as if to reinforce the message that the Kremlin still considers them despicable.
The program included the claim that the feminist band was financed by Boris Berezovsky, a tycoon who has lived in Britain since 2001 after a falling out with Putin and often serves as a Kremlin boogeyman.
Berezovsky said Wednesday that he had nothing to do with the group, although he was "truly delighted by the actions and courage of the girls."
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