Members of the female band Pussy Riot have called their “punk prayer” performed at a Christian church an “ethical mistake,” but pleaded not guilty to charges of hooliganism that can land them in prison for seven years.
“We never said anything insulting to the believers, the church or God,” group member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said in a statement read out loud by the defense at the Pussy Riot trial in Moscow on Monday.
The group expected its political performance to be viewed as ironic, Tolokonnikova said, adding that “perhaps we had no right to invade the ritual space.”
The group staged its performance in the altar zone of Christ the Savior Cathedral only because its members were unaware of church rules, fellow band member Maria Alyokhina said.
Five masked members of Pussy Riot stormed the cathedral in February to perform their “punk prayer” aimed at then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in front of stunned church security guards.
Three group members were later detained and charged with hooliganism, with the main phase of the trial beginning on Monday.
The group performed “in an extremely vulgar way for such a setting” while the song was “insulting and sacrilegious to Orthodox believers,” prosecutors said.
The arrested group members pleaded guilty to an administrative offense on Monday, but not to the criminal charge of hooliganism.
Amnesty International has recognized the three group members held in custody as prisoners of conscience. A number of prominent Western musicians, including Sting, Franz Ferdinand and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, have spoken in their support.
Several hierarchs of the Orthodox Christian Church have supported persecution of Pussy Riot members unless the latter apologize to the church.
Police never detained other members of the band, whose lineup counts 13 anonymous performers. Three Pussy Riot members gave an interview to The Observer last week, saying that Putin, now the president, was “scared” of the group.