Pussy Riot protesters cleared of religious hatred charge

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[April 04, 2014]   MOSCOW (Reuters) Two women from Russia's Pussy Riot protest group who were jailed for a song deriding President Vladimir Putin were cleared in a Moscow court on Friday of inciting religious hatred.

But the court knocked only one month off their two-year sentences, upholding a charge of hooliganism.

Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova spent nearly two years in prison after performing a protest song against Putin in Moscow's main cathedral in 2012.

Many in the West criticized the harshness of the sentence, saying it was evidence of a clamp-down on dissent.

The two protesters were released in December, three months before completing their sentences, under an amnesty to mark the 20th anniversary of Russia's constitution.

In the same month, Russia's Supreme Court ordered a review of their case, saying that lower courts overlooked mitigating factors, and did not provide evidence of a portion of the verdict that says they were motivated by "hatred of a certain social group".

The latest court ruling means the two remain convicted of hooliganism, a charge that carries up to seven years in prison.

(Reporting by Jason Bush; editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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