Pussy Riot trial starts in Moscow

Mon, Jul 30, 2012, 01:00

Three women who protested against Vladimir Putin in a "punk prayer" on the altar of Russia's main cathedral went on trial today in a case seen as a test of the longtime leader's treatment of dissent during a new presidential term.

The women from the band Pussy Riot face up to seven years in prison for an unsanctioned performance in February in which they entered Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral, ascended the altar and called on the Virgin Mary to "throw Putin out!"

Maria Alyokhina (24) Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (22) and Yekaterina Samutsevich (29) were brought to Moscow's Khamovniki court for Russia's highest-profile trial since former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was convicted for a second time in 2010, in the same courtroom.

Supporters chanted "Girls, we're with you!" and "Victory!" as the women, each handcuffed by the wrist to a female officer, were escorted from police van into the courthouse.

"We did not want to offend anybody," Ms Tolokonnikova said from the same metal and clear-plastic courtroom cage where Khodorkovsky sat with his business partner during their trial.

"Our motives were exclusively political."

The stunt was designed to highlight the close relationship between the dominant Russian Orthodox Church and former KGB officer Putin, then prime minister, whose campaign to return to the presidency in a March election was backed clearly, if informally, by the leader of the church, Patriarch Kirill.

The protest offended many believers and left the church leadership incensed.

The church, which has enjoyed a big revival since the demise of the Communist Soviet Union in 1991 and is seeking more influence on secular life, cast the performance as part of a sinister campaign by "anti-Russian forces".

The women, who have been charged with hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility, have said many times they meant no offence.

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