White House protests Pussy Riot's two-year prison sentence

The White House on Friday protested the conviction and “disproportionate” two-year sentence handed down against three members of the punk band Pussy Riot, whose trial in Moscow for "hooliganism" has sparked an international outcry. 

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Josh Earnest, a spokesman for President Obama, said the United States was "disappointed" by the guilty verdict against musicians Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich.

"The United States is disappointed by the verdict, including the disproportionate sentences that were granted," Earnest told reporters. 

"While we understand the group's behavior was offensive to some, we have serious concerns about the way these young women — about the way that these young women have been treated by the Russian judicial system."

Victoria Nuland, a department spokeswoman, said in a statement the United States fears the chilling impact the case could have on individual freedoms. 

“The United States is concerned about both the verdict and the disproportionate sentences handed down by a Moscow court in the case against the members of the band Pussy Riot and the negative impact on freedom of expression in Russia,” Nuland said. “We urge Russian authorities to review this case and ensure that the right to freedom of expression is upheld.”

The sharp response came after a Russian court founded the band members guilty of "hooliganism driven by religious hatred" for an unscheduled performance held at a Moscow cathedral in March. The Pussy Riot musicians were protesting Vladimir Putin during his bid to regain the Russian presidency. The band called on the Virgin Mary to save them from Putin, according to reports.

The conviction and sentence also drew an angry complaint from Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteTim Kaine backs call to boost funding for Israeli missile defense Clinton brings in the heavy hitters Kasich doesn't regret skipping convention MORE (R-N.H.), who said Putin should be ashamed of himself over the band's treatment. 

“Shame on Putin regime for sentencing female punk band to 2 [years] in jail for speaking out against oppression,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) wrote on her Twitter feed.

Ayotte will be a speaker at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., later this month, and was mentioned as a possible running mate to presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney before the selection of Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanBiden should have been the clear choice for vice president Trump, Clinton intelligence briefings likely to start next week Clinton maps out first 100 days MORE (R-Wis.).

The Pussy Riot case has sparked the ire of the freedom-of-speech advocates around the world. The State Department called the charges “deeply concerning” when the band was detained in March.

Protesters gathered outside the court in Moscow on Friday and chanted “Russia without Putin,” leading to several arrests, according to The Associated Press.

After separate charges were made against a Russian activist, the State Department called the arrests politically motivated.

“All of these developments raise serious concerns about the politically motivated prosecutions of the Russian opposition and pressure on those who express dissenting views,” State Department press director Patrick Ventrell said last month.

“What we’ve seen are some serious concerns about the politically motivated prosecutions of the Russian opposition. So we’re deeply concerned,” he said.