Russian Court Frees One Member of Punk Band Pussy Riot

NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- An appeals court in Moscow has suspended the sentence for one member of the Russian feminist punk group Pussy Riot, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.  Two other members of the group had their sentences upheld.

The three women were sentenced to two years in prison in August for performing a “punk prayer” on the altar of Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in February, in which they begged for divine intervention to rid Russia of President Vladimir Putin.

In comments broadcast last Sunday, Putin said he thought the sentence was justified.

The case of the three women was seen as a bellwether of the Kremlin’s patience with an unprecedented protest movement, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets calling on Putin to go.  Since Putin’s inauguration for a third term as president in May, lawmakers from his United Russia have ushered in a string of laws restricting freedoms in Russia.  That new legislation, along with the case of the three young women, was seen as an effort to intimidate Russia’s opposition.

The trial of the three young feminists attracted worldwide attention and calls for their release from artists including Madonna, Sting and Paul McCartney.

Before the verdict was handed down in August, Putin himself said he did not believe the women should be treated too harshly.  They faced a maximum of seven years in prison on charges of “hooliganism.”

Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev has called the trio’s detention “unproductive,” but his influence is in question after several recent public disagreements with Putin.

Dueling protests took place outside the courtroom on Oct. 1, with religious opponents of the group carrying Russian Orthodox icons pitted against their supporters brandishing the group’s trademark colorful balaclavas.  Protests in support of the group were planned around the world on Wednesday as well.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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