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Pussy Riot trial over pro-gay Putin protest begins

Human rights campaigners denounce trial of Russian female punk band as 'politically motivated'
Pussy Riot sang protest song in Moscow's Orthodox cathedral

Three members of Russian female punk band Pussy Riot pleaded not guilty to 'religious hooliganism' as the trial into an anti-Putin protest which spoke out for gay rights began.

Maria Alekhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were accused of 'hooliganism on the grounds of religious hatred' for singing a protest song in Moscow’s main Orthodox church.

The performance of 'Virgin Mary redeem us of Putin' included a reference to the country's persecuted LGBT community with the line 'Gay pride sent to Siberia in chains' and was staged on 21 February to rally against the president ahead of the country's elections in March.

The trio have been in detention for four months now and face possible prison sentences of up to seven years.

It's unknown who long the trial will last and despite Tolokonnikova saying they didn't mean to offend anyone, a court ruled on 21 July that the women must remain in pre-trial custody for six months.

Human rights groups have condemned the trial, with Amnesty International accusing it of being 'politically motivated'.

'This trial should never have taken place,' said Amnesty Europe and Central Asia director John Dalhuisen.

'The three singers are being tried for making a legitimate protest. This is not a criminal offence. They must be released immediately.

'They dared to attack the two pillars of modern Russian establishment - the Kremlin and the Orthodox Church.'

He added that expected sentence was 'wildly out of proportion'.

He said: 'We have serious concerns whether Maria Alekhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova may have a fair trial thanks to the extremely prejudicial atmosphere cooked up in a string of statements by politicians and clerics from the top echelons of Russian society.

'These have been widely broadcast by the media shaping public opinion against these three women. The trial is clearly politically motivated.'

During the demonstration in Christ the Saviour Cathedral, several group members covered their faces with balaclavas.

The song called on Virgin Mary to become a feminist and banish Vladimir Putin. It also criticized the dedication and support shown to Putin by some representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Russian authorities subsequently arrested Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova on 4 March, and Ekaterina Samutsevich on 15 March, claiming they were the masked singers.

One of the women, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, has admitted to being a member of the larger Pussy Riot group and taking part in the protest, while the other two deny any involvement in the cathedral protest.

Watch the protest video below:

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