Three members of a Russian band have gone on trial for a widely publicized protest against President Vladimir Putin. The case has been widely criticized outside of Russia but split opinion in the country.
The three women face charges of hooliganism in connection with an unauthorized performance at an Orthodox cathedral in Moscow in which they went to the altar and called on the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin. A number of other people took part in the protest but escaped arrest.
The protest came just ahead of Russia's presidential election, when Putin won a third term in office.
Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich, who have been in custody since their arrest shortly after performing their "punk prayer" back in February, appeared inside an enclosed defendant's box in the courtroom as the trial began on Monday.
The three defendants responded to a series of formal questions from the judge about things like their citizenship, education and whether they had ever been convicted of a crime.
This is the most closely watched criminal case in Russia since the second trial of former oil magnate Mikhail Khordorkovsky in 2010, and it's also being heard in the same Moscow courtroom.
Criticism at home and abroad
The case has split public opinion in Russia, with Orthodox Church officials condemning the protest as being part of a campaign by "anti-Russian forces."
However, the three women, all in their 20s, also have a lot of supporters, some of whom cheered them as they were led in handcuffs from a police van into the courthouse.
"This has nothing to do with the law, it is a political reprisal," opposition parliamentarian Gennady Gudkov said.
The case has also been criticized by international human rights groups such as Amnesty Interational, which has called for their release.
The charges are not a "justifiable response to the peaceful - if, to many, offensive - expression of their political beliefs," Amnesty said in a statement.
Russian Prime Ministry Dimitry Medvedev, though, dismissed criticism of the case, saying in an interview with the Times of London that there would always be "different perceptions about what is acceptable and not acceptable from a moral point of view and where moral misbehavior becomes a criminal action."
The court, he said, would decide "whether that is the case here."
If convicted, the three women, two of whom have young children, could face up to seven years in prison. At an initial hearing earlier this month, the court ordered them to be held in custody until at least next January.