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Yekaterina Samusevich, member of the punk band Pussy Riot, appears in Tagansky District Court, Moscow, on March 16.
Amnesty International is urging Russian authorities to release three members of the female punk group, Pussy Riot.

The three were detained shortly after members of the group stormed a church in Moscow on February 21 and performed a song criticizing what they see as the Orthodox Church's support of Prime Minister and president-elect Vladimir Putin.

The three admit to being members of the larger group, but deny taking part in the action at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

Amnesty said even if they did take part, Russia's response -- including a possible seven year jail sentence for hooliganism -- was not "a justifiable response to the peaceful -- if , to many, offensive -- expression of their political beliefs."

Amnesty called for the immediate release of Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Ekaterina Samusevich.

The three are now in pre-trial detention until April 25.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill said Pussy Riot desecrated the Cathedral of Christ the Savior with their stunt.

Speaking last month to Russian TV, Kirill said he was sickened by their protest and saddened that Russian Orthodox believers would defend the band.

"Those people don't believe in the power of prayer, they believe in the power of propaganda, in the power of lies and slander, in the power of the Internet and mass media, in the power of money and weapons," Kirill said

"We believe in the power of prayer. I call on the whole Russian Orthodox Church for passionate and diligent praying for our country, for our trust, for our people, for God to forgive us our sin."

More than 2,000 people have signed an open letter to the patriarch, asking the clergy not to press charges.

Several religious leaders, including Vsevolod Chaplin, the head of the Orthodox Church's social affairs department, have said the women should not be imprisoned.
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov
A Russian official says U.S. funding of organizations that promote the spread of democracy in the country is turning into a problem in bilateral relations between Moscow and Washington.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency on April 3 that U.S. government officials have responded to Russia’s concerns.

He said one of the ways in which they have done so is by "providing some specific data on what is being done, when, and how" to support the groups.

But he added that U.S. funding is "reaching a scale that is turning into a problem in our relations."

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who will return to the Kremlin for a third presidential term in May, has repeatedly accused Washington of using its pro-democracy program to finance the protest movement against Putin's continued tenure at the top of the Russian leadership.

Based on reporting by Interfax and AFP

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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