Pussy Riot members jailed for hooliganism

Three members of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot have been sentenced to two years in jail after being found guilty of hooliganism.

Pussy RiotAP Photo, Misha Japaridze

The performers were arrested in February after performing a protest song in Moscow's Christ the Saviour cathedral.

Judge Marina Syrova said the women had been motivated by religious hatred and had "crudely undermined social order".

Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29 have been on trial for the last few weeks.

Prosecutors have asked for them to be given three years in prison.

The women had taken part in an obscenity-laced performance, which implored the Virgin Mary to "throw Putin out". Seven members of Pussy Riot were arrested, but only three were put on trial.

Speaking earlier this month, Russian president Vladimir Putin said the women should "not be judged too severely".

Pussy Riot has attracted high-profile support from other musicians, including Sir Paul McCartney, Bjork and Madonna, who called for their release while she was on tour in Russia earlier this month.

Amnesty International has said it considers the three women prisoners of conscience.

The group was formed about a year ago as a reaction to the announcement that Mr Putin, then prime minister, would run in presidential elections, despite having served two consecutive terms from 2000 to 2008. Besides campaigning for women's rights, the band also call for political freedom and reform of the justice system.

On Thursday, former president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev told the BBC's Russian Service the case should never have gone to trial, calling it "a completely pointless undertaking".