30 July 2012 03:56 ET
Three members of Russian punk protest group Pussy Riot go on trial on Monday, in a case that has divided Russia and inflamed the religious establishment.
They were taken into custody in February after singing a song protesting against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral.
The song outraged the Russian Orthodox Church. It accused them of blasphemy.
Supporters say the case reflects the state’s growing intolerance of government opponents.
It is a case that has divided Russia between those who think the women have been treated far too harshly, and those who feel their action grossly offended the Orthodox faith.
But this case also has political overtones. Pussy Riot staged their cathedral stunt as a protest at Patriarch Kirill’s open support for Vladimir Putin in the build-up to the March presidential election.
The Russian Orthodox Church has always walked a moral tightrope throughout its long history, and has been criticised for its involvement with successive leaders from the tsars to Stalin, and now, Vladimir Putin.
Pussy Riot’s fate has gained international attention. Superstar musicians like Sting, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Franz Ferdinand have supported their cause during visits to Moscow this summer.
But that will not help them in this trial. The three imprisoned women’s supporters believe pressure from the Kremlin will be far more influential.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich caused outrage when they stormed onto the altar of Christ the Saviour Cathedral, and sang an obscenity-laced song that implored the Virgin Mary to “throw Putin out”.
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, has said the act amounted to blasphemy.
The women are facing the charge of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility and could face up to seven years in prison.
Pussy Riot made headlines around the world late last year when footage of their controversial public performances at Moscow landmarks such as Red Square attracted millions of viewers on the internet.
More than 100 prominent Russian actors, directors and musicians have urged the authorities to release the three.
Western musicians such as Sting and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers have also criticised the women’s arrest.
Activists have said the case indicates that President Putin, now serving a third term in office, is not heeding calls for him to be more tolerant of political opponents.
using the number/letter grid:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
A B C D E F G H I
J K L M N O P Q R
S T U V W X Y Z
A = 1 J = 1 S = 1
B = 2 K = 2 T = 2
C = 3 L = 3 U = 3
D = 4 M = 4 V = 4
E = 5 N = 5 W = 5
F = 6 O = 6 X = 6
G = 7 P = 7 Y = 7
H = 8 Q = 8 Z = 8
I = 9 R = 9
her primary challenge = ES = 51 = President. Government. Laws. Anything she says or does can and will be used against her in a court of law.
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