Russian court refuses to free Pussy Riot members

Wed Jun 20, 2012 12:12pm EDT
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By Gabriela Baczynska

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Three members of Russian women's punk band Pussy Riot, who derided President Vladimir Putin in a protest in Moscow's main cathedral, were denied bail on Wednesday despite calls for their release by hundreds of supporters at the hearing.

Police hauled away more than 15 people when a crowd of about 300 whistled, chanted "Freedom" and unfurled banners demanding the released of the band members who have been held in pre-trial detention since early March.

Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich face up to seven years in jail for hooliganism after storming the altar of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral on February 21 in short dresses and colorful masks to sing a "punk prayer" that offended some Russian Orthodox believers.

Their rendition of "Holy Mother, throw Putin out!" was a protest against the close relationship between the Church and Putin, whom it backed in the presidential election he won in March.

The act was part of a protest movement against Putin's 12-year dominance that at its peak saw 100,000 people take part in winter street protests in Moscow. Their arrest has drawn widespread outrage among activists and human rights groups.

Amnesty International urged Russia in April to free the women, criticizing the severity of the response by authorities.

But in a packed courtroom the judge extended their jailing until July 24 after prosecutors argued they should be kept behind bars to prevent them fleeing abroad or planning another performance.

"NOT GUILTY"   Continued...

A woman reads a leaflet during a protest rally in support of the detained members of the Russian all-girl punk rock band Pussy Riot in Prague June 19, 2012. REUTERS/David W Cerny