Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, centre, a member of feminist punk group Pussy Riot is escorted to a court room in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012.
MOSCOW — Prosecutors on Tuesday called for three-year sentences for the members of a feminist punk band who performed an anti-Vladimir Putin stunt in Moscow's main cathedral, ignoring demands by human rights groups that the three women be set free.
Prosecutor Alexander Nikiforov portrayed the request as lenient, saying it takes into account the fact that two of the defendants are young mothers and that they have good references.
The hooliganism charges the three women face can carry a sentence of up to 7 years in prison.
The three women — Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23; Maria Alekhina, 24; and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29 — have been in custody for five months following the February stunt, in which they took over a church pulpit in Christ the Savior cathedral for less than a minute, singing, high-kicking and dancing.
Their case is part of a widening government crackdown on dissent that followed Putin's election in March and caused strong protests in Russia and abroad. Musicians including Madonna, the Who's Pete Townshend and Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys have urged their release.
The verdict is expected this week.
The defendants have said their goal was to express their resentment over Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill's support for Putin's rule. But prosecutors have insisted throughout the trial that there were no political motives behind the performance.
"They set themselves off against the Orthodox world and sought to devalue traditions and dogmas that have been formed for the centuries," Nikiforov said Tuesday.
Members of the band say they did not mean to hurt anyone's religious feelings when they performed the "punk prayer."
Larisa Pavlova, a lawyer for the church employees who were described as the injured party in the case told the court on Tuesday that she supports the sentencing recommendation.
Pavlova said most hooliganism in Russia is committed when people are drunk and they often regret what they have done — but the defendants "thoroughly planned, rehearsed (their performance) and were fully aware of what they were doing."
"And they had the audacity to say in court that they did the right thing, that it's OK and that they're ready to keep on doing such things," Pavlova said.
Tolokonnikova chuckled as Pavlova mentioned in her speech that feminism in Russia is incompatible with Orthodox faith.
The trial has sharply divided Russia. Some believers felt insulted by the act, while rights groups have declared the women prisoners of conscience.
Orthodox leaders have ignored calls by many believers to pardon the women and urge the court to dismiss the case.
Russian veteran rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva told the Interfax news agency that a jail sentence for Pussy Riot would be "a disgrace for Russia and the Orthodox Church."
Amnesty International has said it considers the three women to be prisoners of conscience "detained solely for the peaceful expression of their beliefs."