MOSCOW – Three female punk rockers who mocked Vladimir Putin in a surprise protest inside Russia's main Orthodox church will be kept in jail, a Moscow court ruled Thursday.
Five members of the feminist band Pussy Riot — clad in brightly colored homemade ski masks and miniskirts — briefly seized the pulpit of Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral in February and chanted "Mother Mary, drive Putin away."
Three band members have been in police custody since March and face up to seven years in jail on charges of hooliganism. Their cause — and the harsh response of the Russian Orthodox Church — has provoked a public outcry and criticism of Russia's largest religious institution.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich will remain in detention until June 24, a Tagansky district court judge decided, after an investigator petitioned to keep them in prison while the police investigation continues.
The band's unauthorized performance took place two weeks before March's presidential vote in which Putin won a third presidential term despite a wave of massive protests against his rule.
Supporters of the band, including prominent artists, musicians and activists, organized a protest festival outside the court Thursday. About 200 people gathered in the courtyard, some carrying balloons and posters, and chanted "Freedom!" when the women were taken into the court.
Police arrested more than 20 demonstrators outside the court ahead of the hearing.
Orthodox activists also rallied, provoking Pussy Riot supporters and throwing eggs at Tolokonnikova's husband.
The Russian Orthodox Church says the women deserve to be prosecuted for their "blasphemous" performance from a place near the altar that no lay persons are allowed to enter, although thousands of believers have signed a petition urging the church to forgive the band.
Attorneys for the arrested band members argued that the women should be released because they have young children.
Pussy Riot gained notoriety in January for performing a song addressed to Putin from a spot on Red Square. Videos of the performance became an instant Internet hit.
The group is part of an artistic movement whose members organize protest performances and create controversial art projects that target the Kremlin and Russia's security agencies.