MOSCOW â€” A Moscow judge handed down stiff prison sentences of two years on Friday afternoon for three young women who staged a protest against Vladimir V. Putin in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior last February and whose jailing and trial on hooliganism charges have generated worldwide criticism of constraints on political speech in Russia.
While a guilty verdict against the three women, members of a band called Pussy Riot, was widely expected, suspense had built over how severe a punishment they would receive. Prosecutors had demanded three-year prison terms, but President Putin had weighed in on the side of leniency.
But the judge, Marina Syrova, showed little sympathy for the trio, and it was not immediately clear whether the sentences would prompt a reaction on Moscowâ€™s streets.
The case has become a touchstone in the political conflict that began in Russia after disputed parliamentary elections last December. That is partly because of the sympathetic appearance of the defendants â€” two are mothers of young children â€” partly because their group uses music to carry its message, and because it has pitted them against a united power-structure: the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church.