MOSCOW — Russia warned the West against "hysterics" over the Pussy Riot sentencing Monday as police said they were hunting members of the punk band still at large after the stunt mocking President Vladimir Putin.
"There is still the possibility of filing an appeal and the lawyers for the young girls plan to do so," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a visit to Helsinki in his government's first official reaction to the sentencing.
"Let's not draw any rash conclusions and go off into hysterics," the country's top diplomat said.
On Friday three members of Pussy Riot were found guilty of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" and handed two-year jail terms after they performed an anti-Putin song in Moscow's leading cathedral in February.
The West decried the court ruling against Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich, calling it disproportionate and excessive.
Seeking to deflect widespread criticism that the Moscow court merely fulfilled a Kremlin wish, Lavrov said the judge had acted independently and noted that Putin himself had called for leniency for the three women.
On a recent visit to London before the verdict Putin had also said he was hoping the court would make the "right" ruling.
"Interfering with the courts' work is inadmissible. We can only have a personal opinion on the verdict," Lavrov said.
He added that a number of European countries also punished strictly for what he said was blasphemy in places of worship, with up to three years imprisonment in Germany, two years in France and Finland and six months in Austria.
Russian authorities meanwhile said earlier Monday they had launched a new criminal investigation against members of the band who remained free after their stunt.
"The probe is currently ongoing, search activities are being conducted," a police spokesman told AFP. He declined to provide further details.
Five women in all pulled on brightly coloured balaclavas on February 21 and belted out a "punk prayer" in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral calling on the Virgin Mary to remove Russian strongman Putin.
The three put on trial were detained in March, while the other two remained free.
During the trial, the prosection referred to them as "unidentified participants".
Pyotr Verzilov, the husband of Tolokonnikova, one of the jailed singers, told AFP earlier they were leading "normal lives."
It was not immediately clear whether the authorities' search was limited to just these two women, or other members of the fluid female collective, or indeed anyone else who helped them with their cathedral stunt.
Earlier Monday the jailed trio's lawyer said they would not seek clemency from Putin, who was elected president for a third term shortly after the cathedral performance.
"Our clients will not ask for a pardon," Nikolai Polozov told AFP. "Literally this is what they said: 'Let them go to hell with their pardon'."
Polozov said however the defence team planned to appeal to a higher court as soon as they received a copy of the lengthy verdict.
Pussy Riot recently released a new song entitled "Putin is Lighting the Fires of the Revolution."
Observers said the Pussy Riot case pitted working-class and rural Russians, who form the backbone of Putin's support, against urban middle classes.
Liberal daily Vedomosti said the trial unleashed a painful bout of soul-searching in society.
"The trial and the events that will follow it will bring a lot of new problems," it said in an editorial.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »