Pussy Riot solidarity rally attracts scores in Toronto

More than a hundred demonstrators gathered outside the Russian consulate in Toronto on Friday to protest the conviction on hooliganism charges and two-year prison sentences handed to members of the punk band Pussy Riot.

The demonstrators began gathering at about 11:30 a.m. ET outside the Russian consulate on Bloor Street East near Church Street. Toronto is one of dozens of cities around the world where protests are being held Friday in support of the Russian band.

Some protesters are turning to music to voice their disapproval of the verdict, brandishing guitars or bagpipes as well as placards.

The organizer of the rally, Lynn Flatley, is a mother who says she was never previously involved in activism until this controversy emerged.

"They did a peaceful performance of a song," Flatley said. "It was their artistic expression, a political statement."

Sheila Hart-Owens, a women's studies student, said it's "really important" to stand up for the jailed musicians.

"We're a global community, and if you don't think it's wrong what's happening with them, then you should start thinking," she said.

Alla Kadysh, a former Russian citizen, says she is encouraged by the fact that this protest, which was winding down as of around 2 p.m. ET, was organized by Canadians with no apparent direct connection to Russia.

"I hope there will be some pressure on [the] Russian officials to start thinking about the opinions of the people in the whole world," she said.

"It doesn’t look like they care too much, but maybe at some point they would."

Imprisoned over 'punk prayer'

The protest comes in the wake of revelations that Pussy Riot may have a Canadian connection. Pyotr Verzilov, the husband of band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, has told CBC News his wife holds permanent resident status in Canada and an Ontario health card.

Judge Marina Syrova handed down the verdict Friday in a Moscow court. The three members were each sentenced to two years each behind bars. Prosecutors had sought a three-year prison term.

It's been five months since the members of the band — Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alekhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30 — were arrested and became an international cause célèbre after staging an anti-Putin protest in Moscow's main cathedral.

Jailed ever since and facing up to seven years in prison, they have received public support from musicians such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Paul McCartney and Madonna.

In Canada, support has come from electro-pop performance artist Peaches and punk band SFH.

"In our country we're allowed to dissent from the government and it turns out in Russia, that calls itself a democracy now, that you're not," said SFH member David Shiller, whose band has been selling T-shifts to raise money for Pussy Riot's legal defence.

Berlin-based Peaches had gathered 85,000 signatures after five days on a petition in support of Pussy Riot on the social action website Change.org. The Berlin-based singer also created a Free Pussy Riot video featuring supporters in masks.

Pussy Riot was little known before its brief impromptu performance in Christ the Savior Cathedral in February. Dancing and high-kicking, they shouted the words of a "punk prayer" asking the Virgin Mary to deliver Russia from Putin, who was set to win a third term in a March presidential election.

They were arrested on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. Since then, they have been vilified by the state media, while winning supporters abroad.

With files from The Associated Press, and The Canadian Press