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Russian top clerics forgive Pussy Riot, ask for mercy

Sergey Ponomarev / AP file

Feminist punk group Pussy Riot members, from left, Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass cage at a court room in Moscow, Russia on Friday, Aug. 17, 2012.

Russian Orthodox Church clerics have asked the country’s authorities to "show mercy" on the three members of the punk band Pussy Riot, who were sentenced to two years in jail each on Friday in a trial seen as a test of President Vladimir Putin's tolerance of dissent.

­"Casting no doubt on the legitimacy of the court’s decision, we appeal to the public authorities to show mercy, within the law, on the convicted in the hope they will never repeat such blasphemous actions,” the Russian Orthodox Church's High Council said in a statement, according to RT.com.

Russian court sentences Pussy Riot rockers to 2 years in prison

A judge sentenced the three women for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, after they staged an anti-Kremlin protest on the altar of Moscow's main Russian Orthodox church. 

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, said they were protesting against close ties between Putin and the Russian Orthodox church and did not intend to offend believers, but the judge rejected those arguments.

'Magnet for vapid celebs'? Support for jailed Russian rockers questioned

"We think the words of pity for the convicted which have been coming from the Church's children and other people are natural. It is necessary to divide the sin from sinner and reprimand the first while hoping the latter will improve," read the first official statement from the Orthodox Church since the trial began, according to RT.com.

Three members of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot remain in jail after a performance in protest of Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral. NBC's Michelle Kosinski reports.

Small, but raucous protests were held Friday in a few dozen cities in support of the three women.

According to The Associated Press, Archpriest Maxim Kozlov said on state TV: "We are simply praying and hoping that these young women and all these people shouting in front of the court building, committing sacrilegious acts not only in Russia but in other countries, realize that their acts are awful. And despite this the church is asking for mercy within the limits of law."

Patriarch Kirill, the current head of the church, is a strong supporter of Putin, and has described the women's performance as part of an assault by "enemy forces" on the church.

Aware that a long sentence could reinforce the picture Pussy Riot has painted of him as intolerant and repressive, Putin told reporters this month that although the women had done "nothing good," they should not be judged too harshly.

The church's forgiveness is unlikely to change the women's sentence.

Also joining a chorus against the women's sentence was Madonna, who had already voiced her support for the punk band.

"I protest the conviction and sentencing of Pussy Riot to a penal colony for two years for a 40-second performance extolling their political opinions,'' Madonna said in a statement. She called the sentence "too harsh and in fact is inhumane. They've spent enough time in jail. I call on all of Russia to let Pussy Riot go free."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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