Pussy Riot Receives Worldwide Attention After Prison Sentence

Dissent in Russia becomes a global issue after a punk-rock band is sent to prison for hooliganism.

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Three women from a Russian punk rock band were sentenced to two years in jail for hooliganism after a performance on a church altar that took aim at Russian President Vladimir Putin was deemed "sacriligious" and "blasphemous."

The women, whose band is known as Pussy Riot, were arrested in March after a guerrilla performance in a Moscow church, a "punk prayer" that pled with the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Putin, who was elected to a third term two weeks later.

Judge Marina Syrova declared the women guilty of hooliganism that had been motivated by religious hatred, saying they had deliberately offended the church's believers by performing on the church's altar.

All three band members, 22-year-old Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 24-year-old Marina Alyokhina, and 30-year-old Yekaterina Samutsevich, appeared shackled in a court holding cell to hear the sentence, laughing as it was read aloud.

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A throng of supporters chanted "Shame!" outside the courtroom as the verdict was read.

Samutsevich's father told the Associated Press he met with his daughter before the court session and she was prepared for a prison sentence. "We tried to comfort her," said Stanislav Samutsevich.

The case has recieved international attention, with a number of celebrities and U.S. politicial outlets voicing their displeasure with the court's outcome.

World-renowned chess champion Garry Kasparov was arrested outside the courtroom Friday while protesting the sentence. Madonna also expressed her support for the women, wearing a shirt with "FREE PUSSY RIOT" scrawled across the back during a recent performance in Moscow.

At a press briefing Friday, White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said the Obama administration is "disappointed" by the verdict.

"While we understand the group's behavior was offensive for some, we have concerns about the way these young women were treated by the Russian judicial system," Earnest said.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow also tweeted that the sentence was "disproportionate to the offense."

Rights group Amnesty International told CNN that the court's decision was "a bitter blow for freedom of expression in the country" and that the women were now "prisoners of conscience."

The women are expected to appeal the court's decision.

 The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 Greg Otto is the News Editor for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at gotto@usnews.com or follow him on Twitter.