MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian police hauled away 15 supporters of all-women punk band Pussy Riot on Wednesday for protesting against the detention of three of its members who burst into a cathedral and sang a protest song against President Vladimir Putin.
The 15 men and women were dragged off for violating public order when a crowd of about 300 whistled and chanted "Freedom" outside a Moscow court before a hearing at which the band members' pre-trial detention was widely expected to be extended.
"They are violating our constitutional rights," a woman in her late 40s shouted before being dragged in to a police van.
There were no scuffles, but the crowd held banners demanding the release of the three women over an impromptu and unsanctioned performance in short dresses and colorful masks at the altar of Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral.
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Their rendition of a punk prayer called "Holy Mother, throw Putin out!" was a protest against the close relationship between the Orthodox Church and Putin, whom it backed in the presidential election he won in March.
The Church's support for Putin, whose rule has been described by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church as a "miracle of God", has angered many members of the anti-Putin protest movement that has sprung up in the past seven months.
Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich could face up to seven years in jail for hooliganism over an act that offended some Russian Orthodox believers.
Defense lawyers for the jailed women see the case as political and said they had filed an appeal against their detention to the European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday.
"(The documents) try not to make it look like a political case but focus on offence for religious feelings, and they also speak of inciting hatred," Violetta Volkova, lawyer for Yekaterina Samutsevich, told Reuters outside the courtroom.
"But for us, it's obviously political. And when somebody says there are no political prisoners in the country, we feel like laughing," she said.
One of the jailed band members said she expected the court to extend her pre-trial detention by another month on Wednesday. Tolokonnikova's husband said he expected a further two months detention
In April, Amnesty International urged Russia to release the women and criticized the severity of the response by the Russian authorities. It also called for respect of people's right to freedom of expression.
But some Orthodox believers have called for tough punishment of the women over an act they regard as blasphemous.
(Writing by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya, Editing by Timothy Heritage)
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