MOSCOW, Aug. 8 (UPI) -- Members of the Russian feminist collective punk movement Pussy Riot say the Kremlin has hijacked the Russian Orthodox Church.
Three members of the group are on trial in Moscow for staging a "punk prayer" critical of President Vladimir Putin's bid for a third term as president inside Moscow's Orthodox Cathedral in Moscow in February.
The defendants face up to seven years in prison if convicted of hooliganism charges. A verdict is expected Aug. 17, RIA Novosti reported Wednesday.
"We dared to mix Christian culture and protest culture ... and so the authorities decided to protect society from our way of thinking," said defendant Yekaterina Samustsevich. Band members say the church has effectively become a propaganda tool for the Putin regime and that is why young women are being punished.
Wednesday was the first time the defendants have spoken out during their five months of detention and eight-day-old trial. The trial judge squelched applause from supporters packed into the courtroom twice saying "You're not at the theater." But group members received a standing ovation as they left the courtroom, the Russian news agency said.
Pussy Riot has drawn worldwide support from Amnesty International, pop star Madonna, and rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More.