Putin protest band faces 3 years

Prosecutors have asked for three-year sentences on each of the feminist punk band that performed a protest stunt against Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main cathedral.

The hooliganism charges the three women are facing carry a sentence of up to seven years in prison.

Prosecutor Alexander Nikiforov said in court that three years would take into account the fact that two of the defendants are young mothers.

Members of the band Pussy Riot say they did not mean to hurt anyone's religious feelings when they performed a "punk prayer" in Christ the Saviour cathedral in February against Mr Putin's return to the Russian presidency.

Their case is part of a widening government crackdown on dissent that followed Mr Putin's election in March and caused strong protests in Russia and abroad.

"They set themselves off against the Orthodox world and sought to devalue traditions and dogmas that have been formed for the centuries," the prosecutor said.

Larisa Pavlova, a lawyer for the church employees who were described as the injured party in the case, told the court that she supports the three-year-sentence for the band, Pussy Riot.

Ms Pavlova said most hooliganism in Russia is committed when people are drunk and they often regret what they have done - but the defendants "thoroughly planned, rehearsed (their performance) and were fully aware of what they were doing. And they had the audacity to say in court that they did the right thing, that it's OK and that they're ready to keep on doing such things."

The trial has sharply divided Russia. Some believers felt insulted by the act, while rights groups have declared the women prisoners of conscience.

Orthodox leaders have ignored calls by many Orthodox believers to pardon the women and urge the court to dismiss the case.