Russian punk band Pussy Riot to remain in custody

The three members of Pussy Riot in court

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A Russian court has ruled that three members of a punk band arrested after singing a protest song in Moscow's main Orthodox church will remain in custody.

The trio, part of a band called Pussy Riot, will now stay in pre-trial detention for a further six months, until 12 January 2013.

They are charged with hooliganism and could get seven years in prison.

The hearing is being held behind closed doors while supporters and opponents of Pussy Riot demonstrate outside.

Court spokeswoman Darya Lyakh said the next hearing in the trial would take place next week, on 23 July, when, according to Interfax, the court would name a date for the case to be heard.

The women were arrested in February after storming the altar of Christ the Saviour Cathedral, shocking worshippers.

More than 100 prominent Russian actors, directors and musicians have urged the authorities to release the three - Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Mariya Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich.

They have been in pre-trial detention since March.

'Malicious act'

Other band members who took part in the incident were not arrested.

The accusation speaks of "a malicious, carefully planned act to denigrate the feelings and beliefs of the many Orthodox Christian worshippers and to belittle the state's spiritual foundation".

It was one of a number of stunts intended as a protest against Vladimir Putin in the run-up to Russia's presidential elections in March.

The women, wearing masks, were bundled out by security guards after chanting "Mother Mary, drive Putin away" on 21 February.

The Orthodox Church has asked for the women to be treated severely.

It says the women deserve to be prosecuted for their "blasphemous" behaviour, although thousands of faithful have signed a petition urging the church to forgive the band, AP reports.

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