MOSCOW — A Moscow court began the trial Friday of three feminist rockers who face a possible seven years in prison for performing a ‘‘punk prayer’’ against Vladimir Putin from the pulpit of Russia’s largest cathedral.
The case of the three musicians has deeply divided Russia, pitting advocates of openness against the forces of order and the powerful Russian Orthodox Church. The three had been held in jail for more than four months without a single court hearing.
The February stunt, two weeks before the election that returned Putin to the presidency, was designed to offend. Five women — wearing brightly colored balaclavas and miniskirts — briefly took over the pulpit at Christ The Savior Cathedral, chanting ‘‘Mother Mary, drive Putin away’’ and high-kicking cancan-style.
What happened after security guards seized the five was extraordinary — even for a country whose leaders have shown little patience for protest. Three of the band members, two of whom have young children, were thrown into jail and face charges of hooliganism that could bring them seven years if convicted.
Supporters of the three say their jailing and charges are a Draconian demonstration of how the church holds heavy sway in the government.
At Friday’s hearing, prosecutors asked that the women — Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, Maria Alekhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29 — be held in custody for at least six more months as the trial progresses. Defense lawyers have asked for them to be released, in particular so they can take care of their young children.