Musicians across the globe are voicing their support for the Russian political protest collective and sometime punk band Pussy Riot

By Kyle Anderson
August 24, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT

Back on Feb. 21, five Russian women dressed in balaclavas staged a 40-second protest in a Moscow church — setting off a legal firestorm that has galvanized the music community. The women, members of the political protest collective and sometime punk band Pussy Riot, stormed the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and asked the Virgin Mary to protect Russia from President Vladimir Putin. On Aug. 17, three of them — Yekaterina Samutsevich, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Maria Alekhina — were sentenced to two years in prison for the crime of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” (At press time, authorities were still looking for additional members.) Musicians across the globe — including Sting, Paul McCartney, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Beastie Boy Adam ”Ad-Rock” Horovitz — have leaped to their defense, claiming the arrests are an affront to feminism, religious freedom, and free speech. Madonna has been particularly outspoken, even donning a balaclava during an Aug. 7 show in Moscow. “These girls…have done something courageous,” she told the crowd. “I pray for their freedom.” (The Material Girl was later reportedly sued by a group of Russian activists claiming she had violated a law preventing the endorsement of homosexuality to minors during a subsequent concert in St. Petersburg.) Never one to shy away from controversy, Madonna continued to push for their release. “Even if one disagrees with the location or how they chose to express themselves, the sentence is too harsh,” she wrote on Facebook following the verdict. “I call on all of Russia to let Pussy Riot go free.”