Russia's punk band trial approaches verdict as West watches Print article Send a Tip from AFP 6 Aug 2012 post a comment The trial of three members of the all-girl band Pussy Riot who performed a "punk prayer" criticising Vladimir Putin in Moscow's biggest church resumed Monday with sentencing expected as early as this week. Several Western embassy officials squeezed into the tightly packed Moscow courtroom as the sixth day of the trial began. Among the observers was Britain's shadow foreign minister Kerry McCarthy. The presiding judge on Friday barred most of the defence witnesses from testifying and most Russian court observers predicted a swift end to the high-profile case with a verdict expected within days. The three women face up to seven years in prison on charges of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" for shouting out their anti-Putin song from the altar of the Christ the Savious Cathedral in February. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich, all in their 20s, have already been in pre-trial detention for five months. Rights groups see the case as representative of increasing government pressure on opponents of Putin, elected president for an historic third term earlier this year after four years as prime minister. The Kremlin has introduced tougher penalties on protests and labelled foreign-funded rights organisations "foreign agents" subject to stringent new government checks since Putin's re-election. Russian opinion polls show a growing number of people condemning the group's performance -- staged as part of mass protests ahead of Putin's re-election -- while calling the state's response much too harsh. Putin himself said last week he did not believe the punk band should be "judged too severely" for the incident. But the band's lawyers said they remained pessimistic after the judge on Friday threw out most of the planned defence testimony.