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Pussy Riot Legal Battle Continues

Court appeal delayed one week; Group's lawyers cite continued mistreatment of band members

- Common Dreams staff

An anticipated court appeal for members of Pussy Riot was delayed Monday after one member announced she had dismissed her attorneys. Attorneys for the band were appealing the two year prison sentence handed down on August 17.

Pussy Riot members, from left, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich sit in a glass cage at a court room in Moscow, Russia. Anton Podgaiko/Russian Look/Zuma Though her two fellow defendants, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, plan to continue with their defense team, band member Yekaterina Samutsevich told the courtroom that she disapproved with the group's lawyers handling of the case and requested time to bring on a new attorney. The Russian court agreed to adjourn until October 10.

Prosecutors and court officials, according the Associated Press, criticized the move as a delaying tactic.

Hoping to explain the action, defense attorney for the band Nikolai Polozov, explained that the women had been under increased psychological pressure and threats from authorities.

In a meeting last week, as Rolling Stone reported, the band's legal team told reporters that their hope for the appeal would be—at best—to get the sentence shortened by six months. Otherwise, the members could expect to be sent to separate Russian penal colonies within ten days of the hearing. Alisa Obraztsova, one of the attorneys, expressed concern for the women's well being: "We are afraid they may be injured or even killed."

The legal team had planned to bring up a number of injustices throughout the hearing "from being denied the opportunity to call witnesses to other incidents including a court bomb threat, when everyone—except the defendants and their security—were allowed to evacuate the courtroom." They also cited other mistreatment including hunger and government threats to take away Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina's children. 

On August 17, the three band members were convicted of "hooliganism on the grounds of religious hatred" and convicted to two years in prison for the performance of an anti-Putin song in Moscow's main cathedral last February. 

On Sunday, The Russian Orthodox Church issued a statement saying that the band members deserve "clemency…if they repent for their punk prayer," though it remains to be seen if the courts agree. 

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