A Moscow judge has convicted three members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot of hooliganism in a verdict that amounts to a defense of the Russian Orthodox Church’s apparent right to be shielded from criticism within its own walls.

“They have deliberately placed themselves against Orthodox believers,” Judge Marina Syrova said, according to The Guardian, claiming the band’s anti-Putin performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior was driven by hatred of religion, rather than grievance against the country’s political establishment.

“They were openly displaying disrespect” for and “degraded the moral feeling” of Russian Christians, the judge continued.

Boris Akunin, one of Russia’s best known authors, expressed shock at the religious tone of Syrova’s statement. “This is all nonsense. I can’t believe that in the 21st century, a judge in a secular court is talking about devilish movements. I can’t believe that a government official is quoting medieval church councils.”

The defendants, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23; Maria Alekhina, 24; and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, were sentenced to two years each in prison. Shouts of “shame” went up the courtroom as the punishments were read, and the women were reported to have laughed shortly thereafter.

Protesters clad in the band’s trademark bright colors and balaclavas risked huge fines under Russia’s new anti-protest laws to gather outside the courtroom. Some, including world chess master Gary Kasparov, were arrested during the verdict hearing.

On the eve of the verdict, Tolokonnikova wrote to her supporters in a letter passed to one of her lawyers:

“I hold no spite. I have no private spite. But I have political spite.

“Our being in jail is a clear and distinct sign that freedom is being taken away from the whole country. And this threat of destruction of the liberating, emancipatory forces of Russia is what makes me angry.

… “Whatever the verdict for Pussy Riot, we and you have already won. Because we have learned to be angry and speak politically.”

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

The Guardian:

The judge has outlined three specific elements for finding guilt:

1. The choice and timing of venue

2. Their continued performance and resistance to be taken outside by security and cathedral parishioners

3. And the defendant’s conduct and their accomplices afterwards

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