Russia Extends Jail Time for Rock'n'Roll Protesters 'Pussy Riot'

A Russian court on Wednesday extended by a month the detention of female members of the Pussy Riot punk rock group amid protests as they await trial for singing an anti-Vladimir Putin song in a cathedral.

Police said they detained around 20 people outside Moscow's Tagansky district court after supporters sang couplets of the group's song and a pro-Kremlin youth group held placards saying "Heretics, know the law!".

Those detained including several Russian Orthodox activists, Novaya Gazeta daily reported. Several protesters had smeared cosmetic masks on their faces, in a dig at a new law forbidding people at rallies from wearing masks.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alekhina, initially arrested in early March, had their pre-trial detention extended until July 24, adding a month to a previous extension, the RAPSI legal news agency reported.

Prosecutors have argued the women could commit fresh crimes or attempt to flee justice if they were not held behind bars before their trial, now expected to be held in August.

"We are not enemies of the Christian faith... We will never plead guilty of the charges we are charged with," Tolokonnikova, 22, told journalists in the courtroom in televised comments.

The young women, two of whom have children, are charged with hooliganism by an organised group, an offence with a maximum jail term of seven years. It is an exceptionally harsh charge for holding an unsanctioned protest.

Rights groups including Amnesty International have called for their immediate release.

Several celebrities attended the hearing including writer Dmitry Bykov and one of Russia's most popular actresses Chulpan Khamatova, who publicly supported Putin in his campaign for reelection to the Kremlin.

"I just want the girls to go home to their children," she said in televised comments.

It Girl television presenter turned activist Ksenia Sobchak, whose apartment was recently raided as part of a probe into an opposition protest, on Twitter called the extended detention "a terrible injustice".

"Criminals walk free, no one bothers with them, while they have to take revenge for an anti-Putin song!" wrote opposition lawmaker Gennady Gudkov on Twitter.

The radical group has sung raucous anthems against Putin's government in public places including Red Square. Its members wear brightly coloured balaclavas to conceal their faces and use nicknames.

In February, they climbed into an area reserved for priests in the central Church of Christ the Saviour and began singing a song criticising the Russian Orthodox Church's close ties to the Kremlin, before being dragged away by guards.

The offence prompted Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill to hold an open-air prayer service with thousands of worshippers gathering outside the building as he said they had desecrated holy relics kept there.

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