MOSCOW — The Russian Orthodox Church on Sunday asked for clemency for three jailed members of the rock band Pussy Riot if they repent for offering a "punk prayer" for deliverance from President Vladimir Putin.
The church's statement came a day before an appeal hearing, seemingly hoping to end the case that has caused international outrage.
But it was unclear whether the women, who were sentenced to two years last month, would offer the requested penitence and how much leniency a court may show. Putin has been reluctant to leave an impression that he could bow to public pressure and has taken an increasingly tough line on dissent since his inauguration in May.
In Sunday's statement, the church again condemned the band's raucous stunt, saying such actions "can't be left unpunished." But it added that if the women show "penitence and reconsideration of their action," their words "shouldn't be left unnoticed."
Last month, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that keeping them in prison any longer would be "unproductive" — a statement that encouraged hopes that an appeals court would set them free. But skeptics said that ahead of the band members' conviction on charges of "hooliganism driven by religious hatred," Putin himself said the women should not be judged too harshly, raising similar hopes for their release that proved vain.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22; Maria Alekhina, 24; and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, were arrested in March after dancing and high-kicking at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral as they pleaded with the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Putin, who was elected to a third presidential term two weeks later. They said during their trial in August that they were protesting the Russian Orthodox Church's support for Putin and didn't intend to offend religious believers.