MOSCOW – Three members of a Russian all-female punk group facing seven years in jail for a political protest act inside Moscows Christ the Savior cathedral apologized Monday for offending religious sensibilities.
While pleading not guilty to charges of hooliganism, the defendants said the performance in February carried political and cultural aims and didnt intend to insult anyone, according to a statement read out by their counsel at the start of their trial in Moscows Khamovniki District Court.
Perhaps we had no right to introduce these aims into a ritual space, the band members said in the statement read out by lawyer Violetta Volkova during proceedings broadcast on the Internet.
Masked young women wearing skimpy dresses performed what they called a punk prayer in front of the altar at the countrys main Christian Orthodox place of worship, targeting Vladimir Putin, who was elected to a new six-year presidential term in March. Holy Mother, Blessed Virgin, expel Putin, the band sang.
The young women rejected criminal charges of hooliganism, arguing that their case should be treated as an administrative violation. Top Russian cultural figures, including Putin supporters, have rallied to their defense. Visiting bands Red Hot Chili Peppers and Franz Ferdinand have expressed support for the band while performing in Russia this month. The three defendants have been ordered to be kept in pretrial detention until January.
Prosecutors argued at the trial Monday that the young women had carried out a premeditated act designed to humiliate the feelings of Christian believers and undermine the spiritual life of the country, Interfax reported.
The crackdown on the groups Feb. 21 cathedral stunt, which was described as disgusting by Putins spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, reflects efforts to contain the worst political unrest since the Russian leader came to power 12 years ago.
The authorities are prosecuting protesters detained during clashes between police and anti-Putin activists on the eve of his May 7 inauguration and opposition leaders face potential charges of inciting violence against officials carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail.
One of the opposition leaders, Alexey Navalny, said he expects to be charged Tuesday on separate counts of causing material damage to a state timber company in 2009, punishable by as much as five years in prison.