March 14, 2012 / 9:28 PM / 5 years ago

Russia refuses to free anti-Kremlin punk band

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Two members of an anti-Kremlin all-girl punk rock band were ordered detained in prison on Wednesday for mounting a protest 'concert' in Moscow's main cathedral, leaping around in brightly colored masks and brandishing a guitar to recorded music.

Pussy Riot's performance, posted on the internet, offended Orthodox believers. The arrest of the two women last month on hooliganism charges ignited a fierce debate over the boundaries of protest and state power. A judge declined a request on Wednesday that they be released on bail and ordered them held until April 24.

Outside the Moscow court house, fans of the feminist rock group wearing pastel colored masks that are the band's trademark scuffled with Russian Orthodox supporters who came to protest against what consider the group's desecration of a place of worship.

Police broke up the fight and arrested three supporters of Pussy Riot, including a member of the underground art collective Voina, and one pro-Orthodox protester.

"You have some chicks who stormed into the capital's main cathedral, and these people think they should be released," a Church supporter who gave only his name only as Alexander said, gesturing to the band's fans.

Pussy Riot, whose members say they draw inspiration from the 1990s U.S. feminist punk groups Riot Grrl and Bikini Kill, are one of the more bizarre groups to emerge at the fore of a nascent protest movement against Vladimir Putin's 12-year rule.

The groups dissident songs and radical performances calling for Putin's ouster including on Red Square have gone viral.

The girls say they perform anonymously in brightly colored balaclavas so anyone can join their protests.

The band grew from five to ten members in recent months as Moscow saw thousands-strong opposition protests ahead of Prime Minister Putin's victory in a presidential vote that will return him to a post he occupied from 2000-2008.

The Russian Orthodox Church, which is sometimes seen as working hand in hand with the state, has been criticized by some protesters for lending legitimacy to Putin's dominance.

Last month, five masked Pussy Riot performers clad in short dresses and multi-color tights stormed the altar of Moscow's Christ the Savior Church singing "Holy Mother, Throw Putin Out!"

They offended Orthodox believers by standing in a part of the church reserved exclusively for priests.

Only of two of the performers, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, have since been detained.

Defence lawyer Nikolai Polozov had appealed their detention on the grounds that the girls were no danger to society and both had young children.

He argued that the judge who approved their arrest was biased because she had been the target of an earlier protests stunt involving Tolokonnikova and the art group Voina, who had released cockroaches into her court room in a separate trial.

Reporting By Alissa de Carbonnel

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