Confusion descended upon a Moscow city court in what’s become a tradition in the courtroom proceedings of feminist punk group Pussy Riot, as one member unexpectedly fired her lawyer during an appeal hearing on Monday, sparking allegations from prosecutors of deliberate delay.
Ekaterina Samutsevich, currently serving a two-year prison sentence alongside her band mates Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina for the group’s raucous performance in a Moscow cathedral in February, suddenly fired defense lawyer Violetta Volkova, claiming she did not share the same position. Lawyers Mark Feygin and Nikolai Polozov also serve on the women's defense team.
Feygin said the team was taken by surprise and was unaware of any complaints against them.
“When we met with her, she didn’t warn us, [and] there was no information that she was planning to refuse the service of her lawyers,” Feygin told reporters.
The woman’s father, Stanislav, said he was also unaware of his daughter's plan.
Samutsevich claimed she has hired a new lawyer, but has not yet signed a contract with him. Her band mates supported her position, saying the move falls within her legal rights, but they declined to ask for new attorneys.
The motion riled the state prosecutors, who slammed the move as a tactic to delay the proceedings.
The judge, who agreed to terminate Samutsevich's contract with Volkova and postponed the hearing until October 10, said Samutsevich had not previously petitioned for a new lawyer and that the Pussy Riot member failed to offer a proper explanation of her position.
Outside the courtroom, meanwhile, church supporters held a group prayer alongside a handful of protesters against the case.
The appeal hearing followed a string of comments from both the government and the Russian Orthodox Church apparently aimed at finally putting the high-profile case to rest amid both domestic and international outcries.
Vladimir Legoida, head of the church’s Synodal Information Department, issued a call recently for the three women to “repent” in order to “benefit their souls.”
“Considering that the aim of punishment is correction…their repentance and rethinking of what they have done should be heard, and they should get a chance to embark upon the path of correction,” he said in a September 30 statement.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev suggested the women should be freed, claiming their punishment is “unproductive.”
The three members were sentenced to prison in August for their “punk prayer” in Christ the Savior Cathedral, Moscow’s main Orthodox church, in a case that grabbed international headlines and galvanized criticism against the Kremlin for what critics have said is a heavy-handed punishment for a light offense.