1. ITV Report

Pussy Riot trial over Vladimir Putin punk protest song to begin

Members of female punk band Pussy Riot, Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and Samutsevich sit behind bars in Moscow. Photo: REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

Three women who staged a punk protest against Vladimir Putin at Russia's main cathedral will go on trial today, in a case that has divided the country.

Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, who form the band Pussy Riot, were jailed in February after taking to the altar of Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral where they sang a song calling on the Virgin Mary to "throw Putin out".

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, called the "punk prayer" blasphemy.

Russian president Vladimir Putin. Credit: REUTERS/Yana Lapikova

The women are facing charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility and are facing up to seven years in jail if they are found guilty.

Human rights groups and Western musicians - including Sting and the Red Hot Chili Peppers - have expressed their concern about the trial with Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a veteran human rights activist, saying:

The court's decision will depend not on the law but on what the Kremlin wants.

More than 100 Russian musicians, actors and directors have also urged authorities to release the three women.

Activists claim the case shows that Putin, who is serving a third term in office, is not listening to calls to be more tolerant of political opponents.