The husband of one of the members of Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot imprisoned for hooliganism in Moscow is leading a chorus of condemnation after a conviction decried as an attack on free speech.
Three young women, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich, were sentenced to two years in prison Friday after being convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.
They were arrested after performing a song critical of President Vladimir Putin in one of the Russian Orthodox Church's most important cathedrals in February, a flash mob-style act that outraged many of the country's faithful.
Footage of the brief but provocative protest action, in which the band members clad in balaclavas screamed "Mother Mary, please drive Putin away," inside Christ Savior Cathedral attracted wide attention after it was posted online.
The sentence handed down to the trio was widely condemned by rights groups and senior international figures as disproportionate, although polling suggests many in Russia believe they had a fair trial.
Pyotr Verzilov, husband of Tolokonnikova, told CNN's Connect the World that legal experts had assured him while the women might have been arrested for their action elsewhere in the world, they would not have gone to prison for it.
"This would never happen in any Western country, it's just not possible," he said.
Verzilov said the authorities had crossed "a certain line" in arresting the women for a nonviolent protest act -- and that this was the reason for the international outcry over the case, with celebrities including Madonna backing their cause.
"Everyone was amazed that Putin decided to give this brutal sentence to girls for singing a protest song inside a church -- no one was expecting that," he said.
He said there had been no time to say goodbye as his wife -- who is also mother to their young child -- was taken from the courtroom to start her prison term.
"Right after the girls heard the verdict, we only had a couple of glances, for five seconds, and that was it. She was led away by all these numerous guards in the court room and we couldn't speak to each other," he said.
Verzilov's criticisms echo international concern that the sentence, although handed down by a court, may have been politically motivated and reflects a recent crackdown on free speech by Russia's authorities.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest also said the United States was "disappointed" by the verdict and sentence.
"While we understand the group's behavior was offensive to some, we have serious concerns about the way that these young women have been treated by the Russian judicial system," he said.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton condemned the court's decision as "deeply troubling."
"Together with the reports of the band members' mistreatment during their pre-trial detention and the reported irregularities of the trial, it puts a serious question mark over Russia's respect for international obligations of fair, transparent and independent legal process," she said. "It also runs counter to Russia's international obligations as regards to respect for freedom of expression."
Urging Russia to reverse the sentence, Ashton said the case "adds to the recent upsurge in politically motivated intimidation and prosecution of opposition activists in the Russian Federation, a trend that is of growing concern to the European Union."
Rights group Amnesty International said that the court's decision was "a bitter blow for freedom of expression in the country" and that the women were now "prisoners of conscience."
Amnesty believes that the women's conduct "was politically motivated, and that they were wrongfully prosecuted for what was a legitimate -- if potentially offensive -- protest action," it said in a statement.
Human Rights Watch also said the women should never have been prosecuted for a hate crime.
Inside the courtroom, Judge Marina Sirovaya found the three Pussy Riot members guilty of offending the churchgoers present -- through their actions, obscene language and their clothing -- and showing a lack of respect for the rules of the Orthodox Church.
Polling by the Levada Center indicates that many people within Russia support the legal proceedings against the three women.
Its poll, conducted before the sentence was handed down, found that 44% of people surveyed thought the trial was fair, while 17% thought it wasn't fair and 39% said they didn't know.
Verzilov said the survey's findings reflect the dominance of state media, particularly in areas of Russia where access to the Internet is limited.
This made it easy to turn people against the band by portraying it as anti-Orthodox Christian, anti-Russian values and revolutionary, he said.