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Pussy Riot trial: Russia's protest punks plead not guilty to hooliganism

Three members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot have pleaded not guilty at the start of their trial for hooliganism.

Pussy riot 07 20 2012Enlarge
Members of the all-girl punk band Pussy Rio, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (C), Maria Alyokhina (R) and Yekaterina Samutsevich (L), sit behind bars during a court hearing in Moscow on July 20, 2012. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)

Three members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot have pleaded not guilty on the first day of their trial for hooliganism.

Russia's own riot grrrls, Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, face up to seven years in jail for staging an anti-Putin "punk prayer" in the Christ the Savior cathedral, Moscow's largest Orthodox church, in February.

"We never said anything insulting to the believers, the church or God," Tolokonnikova maintained, in a statement to the court cited by RIA Novosti.

She nevertheless conceded that "perhaps we had no right to invade the ritual space."

According to the BBC, Tolokonnikova said she and her bandmates were willing to apologize for the offense their performance had caused – as demanded by church authorities, who accuse the women of blasphemy.

More from GlobalPost: Russian court refuses bail for punk rockers

Five members of Pussy Riot, masked and costumed, invaded the cathedral altar to sing a protest song exhorting the Virgin Mary to overthrow President Vladimir Putin. Lyrics included "Mother of God, cast Putin out," and several swear words.

The three accused, two of whom have young children, have been detained without bail since their arrest in March, in what their supporters say is excessively harsh treatment. The BBC's correspondent reports that they were led in to the courtroom today in handcuffs and locked behind bulletproof glass, despite the fact that they are not accused of any violence.

The case has drawn criticism at home and abroad, with several well-known activists, writers and musicians calling publicly for the women's release.

GlobalPost's Europe editor Gregory Feifer argues that such "draconian justice" is politically motivated, and a sign that the Kremlin is increasingly concerned about challenges to its authority.

Watch Pussy Riot's controversial performance:

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/russia/120730/pussy-riot-trial-russia-protest-not-guilty