(MOSCOW) -- Three members of a Russian all-female punk band today were found guilty of "hooliganism driven by religious hatred" and sentenced to two years in prison from the time of their initial detention.
"The court believes that such goals of punishment as restoration of social justice, the defendants' reform and the prevention of similar crimes may only be achieved if they are sentenced to imprisonment and serve their terms," the judge said, according to the Russian Interfax news agency.
The trial has sparked outrage around the world and drawn the attention from a chorus of Western music stars, including Paul McCartney, Madonna and Sting.
The band, called Pussy Riot, had been in jail since February after performing what they called a "punk prayer" on the altar of Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral, asking for divine intervention to rid Russia of Vladimir Putin, who was then running for a third term as president.
The sentence was less than the seven-year maximum and also less than the three years in prison many observers expected. President Putin recently said he believed the women should not be treated too harshly.
The band was defiant before today's court session. One member said they would not ask Putin for a pardon.
Outside the court, amid heavy police presence, supporters wearing the band's signature colorful baklava knit caps held a rally and were joined by prominent politicians and opposition leaders. Several, including former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and leftist protest leader Sergei Udaltsov, were arrested.
Others placed baklavas on the heads of statues around town in silent protest.
The case was seen as a barometer of Putin's tolerance of dissent after a winter of unprecedented protests called on him to go.
Rallies in support of the band were held around the world before the verdict. The case also captured the attention of some of the world's most famous musicians.
Paul McCartney Thursday added his voice to the growing list of music stars in calling on Russia to set the women free. Pop diva Madonna last week spoke out against their detention from the stage during a concert in Moscow.
Other artists, including Sting, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Franz Ferdinand have also used their recent Moscow concerts as a platform to call for Pussy Riot's release.
A recent poll released by the independent Levada Center found 44 percent of Russians believed the trial was objective, while only 18 percent believed the outcome was determined by the powers that be. Another 17 percent were doubtful of the trial's objectivity.
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