* Court adjourns hearing until Oct. 10
* One band member dismisses lawyers
* West has criticised harshness of sentences
* Russian believers saw protest as sacrilege
By Maria Tsvetkova and Gabriela Baczynska
MOSCOW, Oct 1 A Russian court on Monday
adjourned until Oct. 10 an appeal hearing for the three members
of the Pussy Riot punk band jailed over a profanity-laced
anti-Kremlin protest in a church after one of the trio dismissed
Supporters of the group in colourful T-shirts let off red,
white and blue balloons saying "Pussy Riot" outside the court as
Russian Orthodox Christians sang hymns and accused the women of
Inside the crowded Moscow courtroom, Yekaterina Samutsevich,
sitting in a glass cage with her band mates, told the judges she
disagreed with her lawyers' handling of the case and fired them.
"My position on the criminal case does not match their
position," Samutsevich said of her lawyers.
The hearing was delayed for 10 days to give Samutsevich time
to hire new lawyers as she seeks a reduction of the two-year
sentence, which drew criticism of President Vladimir Putin from
abroad after it was handed down on Aug. 17.
Western governments see the sentences as excessive, and
opposition groups see it as part of a crackdown on dissent by
Putin, but many Russians regard the protest band as irreverent
Samutsevich, 30, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Maria
Alyokhina, 24, were convicted of hooliganism motivated by
religious hatred after storming into the Christ the Saviour
Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Moscow in February and belting out
a "punk prayer" asking the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin.
Relatives and defence lawyers of the three women suggested
Samutsevich's decision was a result of pressure by the state
authorities intended to persuade them to plead guilty.
They have until now remained united, saying they were not
guilty of any crime and that they did not mean to offend
Orthodox Russian Christians.
Samutsevich's father, Stanislav, said he hoped to convince
his daughter to reverse her decision: "I think it's a very deep
mistake, some mistaken assessment of what is happening."
"I think there is some delusion and also one feels some
pressure from the outside on Katya. Apparently they promised her
something. I have this strange feeling that somebody is trying
to break the whole defence apart," he added.
Mark Feigin, one of three defence lawyers, said the decision
could weaken the women's defence in a case they say is
"The pressure is not subsiding. It continues and it would be
naive to think that the authorities will just let it go," said
another defence lawyer, Nikolai Polozov.
"From various sides they are trying to weaken their
position. They have the line of not admitting guilt, and
consider that they have committed only an administrative offence
... The authorities don't like that."
Some in the courtroom also said the move was just aimed at
forcing delay to the case.
CASE DIVIDES RUSSIANS
Global celebrities, including Paul McCartney and Madonna,
called for leniency for the women before their verdict last
But their two-year sentences were seen by the opposition,
and by some Western governments, as part of increasingly
aggressive tactics against the opposition following the biggest
protests of Putin's 12 years in power.
Since Putin's return to the Kremlin in May for a six-year
term, parliament has expelled an opposition leader and approved
laws raising fines for protesters, stiffening punishment for
defamation and tightening checks on foreign-funded lobby groups.
Another bill under consideration would institute jail terms
of up to three years for offending religious feelings.
A group of Orthodox believers quoted the law in their
request to prosecutors in the southwestern city of Rostov-on-Don
to ban the staging of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar in a
local theatre, local officials said.
They said believers had asked for the musical to be
cancelled but ticket sales had been resumed after half a day's
suspension as the theatre considered what to do.
A church spokesman on Sunday urged the trio to repent. A
pardon or a reduced sentence would require them to admit guilt.
The band say the protest, in bright ski masks, tights and
short skirts, was motivated by anger over Putin's closeness to
Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church who
has called Putin's rule a "miracle of God".
A recent official opinion poll showed that more than half of
Russians disapprove of what Pussy Riot did and consider their
two-year sentence to be just. Less than a third said the
Many Russian Orthodox believers consider Christ the Saviour
one of the most revered holy sites in the country, where
religion has flourished since the Soviet Union's collapse.