Some 35,000 people have signed an Internet petition calling for the women's release, and last month more than 100 prominent Russian artists, musicians and public intellectuals signed an open letter to the Kremlin that declared "the criminal case against Pussy Riot compromises the Russian judicial system and undermines confidence in government institutions on the whole."
Some liberals insist that the surprisingly harsh prosecution of the women is being pushed by the Kremlin at the behest of the Orthodox Church, which has grown in political power in recent years and increasingly takes public stands on social matters such as the way Russian women dress and anti-religious artistic expressions. The church denies any direct involvement in the case.
The bizarre stunt carried out by the punk group last February in a priests-only section of Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior – a punk prayer "to redeem us from Putin" – might have passed almost unnoticed at almost any other time.
But it happened as Vladimir Putin launched his successful but controversial bid for a third term as Russia's president, amid a rising street protest movement calling for democratic reforms, and just as unprecedented exposes were appearing in the media about the luxurious lifestyle of the powerful Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill.