The trial of three members of a Russian punk group is under way after they were officially charged with "hooliganism on the grounds of religious hatred".
"Putin's behaviour certainly shows that he's very concerned about the case and that's why his reactions are so inadequate and very much smack of the old KGB tactics …they put the massive force of the state, and here the Russian church is an affiliate, against any opposition."
- Nina Khrushcheva, a professor of international affairs
On February 21, the feminist punk band Pussy Riot took to the altar of Christ the Saviour Cathedral to perform a song asking for the Virgin Mary to "rid us of Putin". They were arrested and have been in detention since.
Three of the band members on trial could face up to seven years in prison if convicted. Another three members remain in hiding from Russian authorities.
Pussy Riot has refused to plead guilty, but has admitted that the show was a mistake, saying that they had not wanted to offend the church.
Questions have been raised if this is a suppression of freedom by a repressive president or simply punishment for bad behavior in a holy place.
Pussy Riot offended many in the Russian Orthodox church with patriarchs calling their performance "blasphemous", and adding that the church was under attack.
"A lot of people in Russia think that this [Pussy Riot case] is hooliganism but also its art activism which sometimes is very difficult to make a distinction. In this case I think it's hooliganism but they are charged in a criminal court, which is a different thing."
- Svetlana Svistunova, a civil and women's right activist
Supporters of the band claim the charges are politically motivated while rights groups say jailing the band members would be "grossly disproportionate".
Critics say the case highlights the close relationship between Putin and the church.
Inside Story asks: Why does the Russian government see Pussy Riot as a threat? Could Pussy Riot spark a rebellion in Russia? And is the church a "propaganda wing" of Putin's government?
Joining presenter David Foster are guests: Nina Khrushcheva, a professor of international affairs at the New School University, and the great-granddaughter of former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev; John Anderson, a professor of international relations at St Andrew's University; and Svetlana Svistunova, a civil and women's right activist, and an award-winning filmmaker.
"Constitutionally the church and state are separate but in practice the links have become much closer .... The church has huge symbolic power ... but in day-to-day politics I don't think it's the first consideration of Kremlin leaders when making decisions."
John Anderson, a professor of international relations
Source: Al Jazeera