MOSCOW, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- The Russian Orthodox Church has asked authorities to show mercy toward the three members of the punk band Pussy Riot who were sentenced to two years in prison.
The three Pussy Riot members -- Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30 -- were found guilty Friday of hooliganism for a Feb. 26 performance in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The group was protesting the Russian Orthodox Church's support of President Vladimir Putin.
"We ask the authorities to show mercy to the convicts, hoping that they will not repeat their blasphemous actions," the Supreme Council of the Russian Orthodox Church said in a statement.
The church's call for leniency has been echoed by freedom-of-speech advocates across the world.
Russian opposition lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov said the trial was an example of political "repression" and it could trigger a civil war.
"Today the regime has both openly and cynically committed a criminal act," he said after the sentencing.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said she fears the impact the decision could have on personal freedoms in Russia, The Hill reported.
"The United States is concerned about both the verdict and the disproportionate sentences handed down by a Moscow court in the case against the members of the band Pussy Riot and the negative impact on freedom of expression in Russia," she said. "We urge Russian authorities to review this case and ensure that the right to freedom of expression is upheld."