Russia's "Pussy Riot" on trial for cathedral protest
By Alissa de Carbonnel
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Three members of a Russian female punk band went on trial on Monday, facing up to seven years in jail for protesting against Vladimir Putin inside a Moscow cathedral, a prosecution they said was aimed at spreading fear and silencing dissent.
The trial of the women from the band "Pussy Riot" is being seen as a test of the longtime leader's tolerance of opposition at the start of his third presidential term.
The trio were charged with "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility" for a performance in February when they entered the Christ the Saviour Cathedral, ascended the altar and called on the Virgin Mary to "throw Putin out!"
Conservative writers and church leaders have demanded harsh punishment, while civil rights groups say a long prison sentence would be out of proportion with the crime, and prove that Putin is determined to crush opposing voices.
Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, were brought to Moscow's Khamovniki court for Russia's highest-profile trial since another opponent of Putin, former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was convicted of embezzlement 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 a police van into the courthouse.
The group's members have consistently maintained that their protest was political and that they meant no harm to Christians.
"We did not want to offend anybody," Tolokonnikova said from the same metal and clear-plastic courtroom cage where Khodorkovsky sat with his business partner during their trial. Continued...