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Trial of punk rockers resumes in Moscow
Pussy Riot band members charged with hooliganism for performing "punk prayer" against Putin in February.
Last Modified: 06 Aug 2012 21:16
The Pussy Riot trial falls into a broader pattern of widening crackdown on dissent in Russia [Reuters]

The trial of three members of a music band, accused of performing a "punk prayer" against Russia's President Vladimir Putin, has resumed in Moscow, with sentencing expected as early as this week.

The members of Pussy Riot are charged with hooliganism and inciting religious hatred for their performance in Moscow's main cathedral in February.

Western diplomats squeezed into the courtroom as day six of the trial got under way on Monday, with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich sitting inside a glass enclosure reserved for defendants.

"Everyone I've spoken to assumes conviction but hoping for lighter sentence, not seven years," Kerry McCarthy, British parliament member, tweeted from inside the crammed courtroom.

They face up to seven years in prison for what their defence says was an expression of a political opinion.

At their trial that began in earnest last week, they pleaded not guilty to the charges, saying that they simply wanted to express their outrage about the Russian Orthodox Patriarch's support for Putin.

The trial fell into a broader pattern of widening crackdown on dissent after Putin's return to presidency.

Sharp public divide

The prosecution of the Pussy Riot band members has caused a sharp public divide and drawn protests from rights groups who have declared them prisoners of conscience.

Their lawyer, Violetta Volkova, on Monday criticised at the way the trial was being conducted.

"I myself witnessed how the journalists were sent away, kicked downstairs," she said.

"I saw how one of the trial participants was simply beaten, the special forces broke his phone while kicking him downstairs, it was totally unacceptable behaviour, and I cannot explain it because there can be no proper explanation for this."

American Pop singer on Monday  Madonna urged Russia not to jail the women.

"I am against censorship and throughout my whole career I've always promoted freedom of expression, freedom of speech. So obviously, I think that what happened to them [Pussy Riot] is unfair," Madonna told Reuters Television.

"I hope they do not have to serve seven years in jail. That would be a tragedy," she said.

"I think art should be political. Historically speaking, art always reflects what's going on socially. So for me, it's hard to separate the idea of being an artist and being political."

Pussy Riot performed their stunt two weeks before Vladimir Putin's return to the presidency in March's election, when five women dressed in brightly coloured miniskirts and balaclavas took over a pulpit of the Christ the Saviour, Moscow's main cathedral for less than a minute.

They high-kicked and danced while singing a song pleading "Virgin Mary, drive Putin away!"

Courts in Russia closely heed signals from the government, and Putin's recent statements have sounded like a clear sign that the verdict for the rockers might be milder than anticipated.

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