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Jailed Russian Punk-Rockers 'Pussy Riot' Begin Hunger Strike

- Common Dreams staff

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of female punk band, "Pussy Riot", reacts behind bars during a court hearing in Moscow July 4, 2012. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Three members of Pussy Riot, the Russian feminist punk-rock band, began a hunger strike Wednesday after a Moscow court suddenly told them they must prepare their defense for trial by Monday.

Maria Alyokhina, Yakaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were taken into custody in March, after the group's February performance of “Virgin Mary Put Putin Away,” an anti-Putin song, inside the Russian Orthodox Church's main cathedral, asking the Virgin Mary to chase President Vladimir Putin out of power.

The three women were arrested over four months ago and have been held without bail on charges of criminal hooliganism  — which carry a possible seven-year prison sentence. Two other female members of the band have avoided arrest thus far.

"I announce a hunger strike because it is unlawful," said Tolokonnikova, wearing a T-shirt with the famous slogan of the Spanish Civil War, "No pasaran!" ("They shall not pass"), emblazoned across it.

"Until July 9 is not enough (time) for me. I think it is absolutely unlawful," she said in the Tagansky district court.

"I am categorically against it and I announce a hunger strike," Alekhina also said after the court delivered a separate ruling on her and another one on Samutsevich.

As the case generates media attention, activists all over the world are advocating for Pussy Riot’s release. Over 100 Russian cultural figures, including some known for pro-government views, have signed a letter calling for the release of the trio. "We see no legal basis or practical reason for the further isolation of these young women, who do not pose any real danger to society," the letter said.

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Video of Pussy Riot's February 2012 performance inside the Russian Orthodox Church's main cathedral which led to their arrests:

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The Russian Orthodox Church has come in for criticism for not intervening in the case and calling for mercy. Instead, leading church figures have criticized the women. Thousands of Orthodox Christian worshipers have turned out in the Russian capital Moscow in April for a prayer to support the controversial Church in what it perceives to be an attack on its authority.

Al Jazeera's Sue Turton reported on April 22, 2012 from the Russian capital:


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Yekaterina Samutsevich, a member of the feminist punk-rock band, Pussy Riot, is escorted in a district court in Moscow. She and two other band members began a hunger strike Wednesday. They face up to seven years in prison on 'hooliganism' charges. (AP/Misha Japaridze)

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