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Pussy Riot supporters detained during protest

Three activists protesting in support of jailed feminist punk band Pussy Riot were detained on Wednesday as tensions in the Russian capital heat up ahead of a verdict in a trial that is being seen as a key test of Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on dissent.
Wearing the bright balaclavas made famous by Pussy Riot, 18 men and women gathered on the steps of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour carrying a sign with the biblical quote “blessed are the merciful”.
Guards at the cathedral broke up the peaceful protest, ripping off activists’ masks, twisting their arms behind their backs and kicking at least one photographer in the face as he tried to take a picture.
Three members of Pussy Riot, jailed since March after performing an anti-Putin “punk prayer” inside the cathedral, are due to hear a verdict in their case on Friday. They have been charged with hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. Prosecutors have called for a three-year sentence.
The trial against the women – Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30 – has become the first step in Putin’s crackdown on dissent following unprecedented protests against him that began in December, the women’s supporters say. Prosecutors have also brought charges against opposition leader Alexey Navalny and more than a dozen people who took part in a 6 May protest that turned violent. Police have shut down businesses belonging to Gennady Gudkov, a leading opposition deputy, amid rumours he may lose his parliamentary mandate.
“The repressions will only strengthen with time and this will lead us to where Egypt, Libya and now Syria are,” said Nikolai Polozov, a lawyer for the three women.
During a nine-day trial marked by procedural violations and absurd lines of questioning, the prosecution argued that the women’s performance inside the cathedral was not political, but an attempt to offend all of Russian Orthodoxy. The women, in powerful closing statements delivered last week, argued that they sought to highlight the destructively close ties between church and state as part of the greater anti-Putin message that drives all their performances.
The trial has revived passions inside Russia against Putin’s return to the presidency, with critics comparing the campaign against Pussy Riot to a Stalinist witch hunt. The Russian opposition has called on supporters to gather in front of the courthouse in balaclavas on Friday at 2pm (11am GMT), one hour before the verdict is due to be delivered.
“No matter what we hope for, we are looking at this situation realistically. Considering how trials happen in Russia, we think it will probably be a guilty verdict with a serious sentence in a penal colony,” Polozov said.
Artists around the world have seized upon the case. Actors at the Royal Court in London will stage readings of the women’s closing statements on Friday, and in New York actors, including Chloe Sevigny, will conduct a reading on Thursday.
Madonna, Bjork, Franz Ferdinand the Red Hot Chili Peppers are among those who have performed in support of the group.
Dozens of cities have joined the call of Pussy Riot’s supporters to conduct a Global Pussy Riot Day on Friday, with protests planned from Barcelona to Vienna.
Not all protest attempts have been successful. Amnesty International said the Russian embassy in Washington, DC thwarted its attempt on Tuesday to deliver a petition with 70,000 signatures calling for the women’s release. An embassy employee “not only rejected Amnesty International’s pleas to take our concerns to Moscow, he unceremoniously dumped the petitions on the pavement,” the group said in a statement. “If this and other actions taken by Russian authorities are any indication, Putin’s vision for the country is a complete breakdown of a free and just society.”
Amnesty International has declared the three women prisoners of conscience.
The Russian opposition has called for a day-long protest on Sunday to commemorate those who lost their lives defending the Russian White House during a 1991 coup attempt. The event will seek to capitalise on the growing anger against the Putin government’s handling of Pussy Riot.

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