April 19, 2012 / 11:15 AM / 7 years ago

Protesters detained at Russian punk group hearing

Police officers detain a supporter of punk band "Pussy Riot" in front of a court building in Moscow, April 19, 2012. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian police detained at least 13 people who demonstrated outside a courthouse on Thursday against the arrest of three members of a women’s punk rock group that performed a protest song in Moscow’s main cathedral, witnesses said.

The court was to decide whether to extend the detention of the three women over the performance, in which the group known as Pussy Riot sang a song against President-elect Vladimir Putin in short dresses and colored masks in Christ the Savior Cathedral.

About 60 of the group’s supporters chanted “Freedom! Freedom!” outside the beige brick Moscow courthouse and some released green, pink and yellow balloons with Pussy Riot’s trademark masks drawn on them.

Scuffles broke out when a Russian Orthodox bystander threw an egg at the husband of one of the three detainees. A Reuters reporter saw police drag at least 13 people off into police vans, two of them for throwing a smoke bomb.

The three women could face seven years in jail on hooliganism charges but deny taking part in the protest in February. No date has been set for trial and the court was expected to extend their pre-trial detention.

Anger over their arrest has fuelled criticism of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose status has improved vastly since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and which has played an increasingly active role in politics since then.

Russians are divided over Pussy Riot’s “punk prayer” protest. Many believers were offended by the protest but some are also upset that Church leaders have called for tough sentences in the case.

Patriarch Kirill, who has described the performance as part of an attack on the Russian Orthodox Church, is also under fire over a lifestyle which critics say is lavish and unbecoming of the head of the Church.

Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel, Writing by Timothy Heritage, Editing by Steve Gutterman

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