* Pressure kept up despite outcry over jailing of 3 members
By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW Aug 20 Russian police are searching for
more members of the Pussy Riot punk rock band, a spokeswoman
said, signalling further pressure on the group despite an
international outcry over jail terms for three women who
protested in a church against Vladimir Putin.
The Russian president's critics condemned the court
proceeding that yielded the two-year prison sentences on Friday
as part of a clampdown on a protest movement and reminiscent of
show trials of dissidents in the Soviet era.
Police said on Monday they were searching for other members
of the group over the February protest at Moscow's Christ the
Saviour Cathedral, but had not yet identified the suspects.
Police did not say how many people they were looking for,
nor whether they faced arrest and charges or whether they were
just wanted for questioning.
Although the search was launched before Friday's verdict,
the determination of police to pursue other Pussy Riot members
suggested the Kremlin would keep the heat on the band despite
the furore over the punishment imposed on the three young women.
"The necessary search operations are being conducted," a
representative of the Moscow police told Interfax news agency.
A police spokeswoman in Moscow's central district confirmed
by telephone that other, unidentified members of Pussy Riot were
being sought under a criminal case that was now separate from
the case against the three performers who were tried.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and
Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, were convicted of hooliganism
motivated by religious hatred over their performance of a "punk
prayer" urging the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin.
The three held forth in front of the altar and wearing ski
masks to conceal their identity, but were arrested after the
protest. Two others who took part remain at large and the group
has said it planned further demonstrations against Putin.
In an interview last week, other members of Pussy Riot -
their faces hidden behind colourful ski masks like those worn
during the "punk prayer" - said the trial had only strengthened
The United States, European Union and several nations have
called the sentences disproportionate, and the United States has
urged Russian authorities to "review" the case.
Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and Samutsevich said they had
sought to protest against Putin's close ties with the Russian
Orthodox Church and had not set out to offend believers.
Putin himself, an ex-KGB spy who returned to the presidency
for a third term on May 7 after a four-year spell as prime
minister, said before the sentences were pronounced that the
women did "nothing good" but should not be judged too harshly.
They have already been in jail for about five months,
meaning they will serve another 19, and could be freed if Putin
were to pardon them. The Orthodox Church hinted it would not
oppose such a move by appealing, belatedly, for mercy.
Madonna on Saturday joined a chorus of celebrities in
denouncing the jail terms imposed on the three women. She said
they were being sent to a "penal colony for ... a 40-second
performance extolling their political opinions".