Maria Alekhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (l-r), members of Russian feminist punk band "Pussy Riot" in district court on trial for hooliganism charges for performing a "punk prayer" against Russian President Putin, Moscow, Russia
(USA TODAY) -- Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says prison sentences should be suspended for three members of Pussy Riot, who were convicted last month for singing a profane "punk prayer" against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main Orthodox cathedral.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich have been in jail since their February protest. They were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two years in prison. The verdict and sentence will not take force until a Moscow court rules Oct. 1 on their appeal, The Moscow Times notes.
"A suspended sentence, taking into account time they have already spent, would be entirely sufficient," Medvedev said today in televised remarks to members of the ruling United Russia party, Reuters reports.
But the former president, who switched jobs with Putin in May, declared he's not supporting the band. "I am sick over what they did, of their public appeal and the hysteria that surrounds them," he said.
One defense lawyer said Medvedev's comments indicated the government was concerned about the level of criticism it has faced. But another lawyer said he doubted the statement would result in leniency, "because Medvedev does not have the authority. He's not a politically influential figure in Russia's authoritarian hierarchy."
Putin has denounced the band. Last week he called their performances "witches' sabbaths." The Russian opposition, human rights campaigners, Western governments and performers have condemned the jail terms.
Meanwhile, a group in the arctic city of Murmansk is offering payments for cutting down Orthodox crosses or defacing churches, the Russian TV network RT reports.
The bounty list was posted by a 23-year-old woman claiming to head a Russian branch of the topless Ukrainian feminist group FEMEN, whose leader recently used a chainsaw to topple a cross in Kiev, the capital, to support Pussy Riot. But FEMEN's leader, Anna Gutsol, called the Russian's campaign "a provocation."