MOSCOW – An appeal by three members of jailed rock band Pussy Riot was postponed Monday after one of them fired her lawyers in what prosecutors criticized as a delaying tactic.
The two year-sentences given in August to the three performers for hooliganism after they performed a "punk prayer" against President Vladimir Putin at Moscow's main cathedral have provoked an international outcry, and celebrities worldwide have expressed support for the trio.
Band member Yekaterina Samutsevich unexpectedly announced at the opening of Monday's hearing that she has fired her three lawyers over an unspecified disagreement.
Samutsevich said she had found another lawyer but had not yet signed a contract.
Her fellow band members said they supported Samutsevich's choice but would still retain the services of the lawyers.
The appeal was adjourned until Oct. 10. Prosecutors condemned the move as a delaying tactic.
Olga Mefodyeva, an analyst at the Center for Political Technologies, suggested the decision might have been a public relations ploy.
"It is possible that because attention to the case has weakened somewhat, they are using such events to draw that attention once again and make this issue into a subject of active discussion," Mefodyeva said.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alekhina, 24, and 30-year-old Samutsevich 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.
The women have all been resolutely defiant during their initial court hearings, but the apparent differences over their legal strategy have led to speculation of possible fissures.
Defense lawyer Nikolai Polozov said the group had come under threats and psychological pressure from authorities.
"They threatened to take away their children," Polozov said after Monday's hearing. "They try to find weak spots from any angle. Essentially, their position is to push them apart."
The Russian Orthodox Church said Sunday the rockers would deserve mercy if they repent for their February stunt. Earlier, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had said that keeping them in prison any longer would be "unproductive."
The calls reflected an apparent desire by both the government and the church to put an end to the case, which has caused international outrage.
The band members' imprisonment has come to symbolize intolerance of dissent in Putin's Russia and caused a strong international condemnation. Their cause has been taken up by celebrities and musicians, including Madonna and Paul McCartney, and protests have been held around the world.
Even some government loyalists criticized the harsh sentence, voicing concern about the church's interference in secular affairs and a growing repressive streak in the Kremlin's policies.
Dozens of supporters gathered outside the court building in solidarity with the group.
The international support for the group, however, has also fostered irritation among many Russians over what they perceive to be foreign meddling in their justice system.
A group of anti-Pussy Riot demonstrators outside the court carried inflatable female dolls in balaclavas to the court building in protest at international organizations bestowing awards on the band.