Nadia, Maria and Katia are three women who have become the most powerful symbols of opposition to Russia’s president.

They have already been detained for five months and today members of punk band Pussy Riot were back in their glass box in court at the end of their whirlwind trial.

“It’s no matter we are behind bars” Nadia told the judge. “We are freer than the prosecutors, because we can say what we think.”

Pussy Riot set out to shock and in February they certainly did. The women burst into Moscow’s main cathedral in balaclavas and prayed for the downfall of Vladimir Putin.

The trio have since apologised for offending Christians but not for insulting Russia’s president.

Hooliganism in the Russian criminal code could lead to up to seven years in jail.

On Tuesday a very unRussian icon – Madonna – weighed in. On stage in Moscow she sang Like a Virgin wearing her own balaclava, with the words “Pussy Riot” scrawled across her.

Today’s trial was besieged by both Russian and foreign press. This extraordinary case now unquestionably the biggest test of freedom of expression Putin has yet faced. The omens are not good: when I began interviewing a Pussy Riot supporter, police dragged her away in front of me into a police van. She had done absolutely nothing.

Putin himself said in London last week that he hoped the women weren’t judged too harshly.

But one of Pussy Riot’s lawyers told me the president was not to be believed and that his remarks were just for western consumption.

Pussy Riot are due to be sentenced next Friday. And with them Russian justice itself.


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