President Vladimir Putin —  Photo by Reuters
President Vladimir Putin — Photo by Reuters

MOSCOW: The new Miss Russia took the unusual step on Saturday of contradicting President Vladimir Putin by denouncing the jailing of two members of the Pussy Riot female punk band who performed a protest song in a church.

Eighteen-year-old Elmira Abdrazakova, an ethnic Tatar whose choice was protested by nationalists on some prominent websites,  said she did not think the young performers should have been thrown in jail for two years.

“I finished Sunday school and for me, a church is sacred. And to do something like that is unacceptable,” she told the Russian News Service radio station. “But the punishment was still too severe. Perhaps they should have just worked with them to change their view of the world.”

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were sentenced to two years in prison after a court convicted them of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for a February 2012 performance in a Moscow cathedral that ridiculed the Church's open support of Putin ahead of presidential elections.

Their treatment has provoked international outrage and has come to symbolise the deterioration of political rights under former KGB spy Putin during his 13-year rule.

Their cause has been picked up by such global stars as Madonna and Sting while the US State Department has officially expressed its disappointment with Russia's handling of the case.

Putin — his ties with the powerful Church becoming more prominent with the years — has defended the jailing and ridiculed those who stuck up for the young women.

Abdrazakova's criticism is rare because few prominent Russians dare to disagree with Putin in public because of the heavy state media backlash this is likely to incur.

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