AFP MOSCOW — A Russian court on Monday promised to show unprecedented transparency in the trial of anti-Putin punks Pussy Riot by broadcasting it on the Internet, but the decision was seen as "suspicious" by the defence.
Three members of the punk band are on trial on hooliganism charges for a protest against President Vladimir Putin in February, in a controversial case that has divided Russia and been branded by critics as an "inquisition".
They have been held in detention since March and on the first day of the trial on Friday were unexpectedly ordered to stay in jail until January 2013.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alekhina face up to seven years in jail if convicted after barging into Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour to perform a "punk prayer" calling for Putin's overthrow.
The three young women looked upbeat and waved to reporters with their free hand as they were led from the police van into the court house, handcuffed by the other hand to guards and surrounded by heavily armed special forces.
Judge Marina Syrova scheduled the next hearing for July 30, Khamovnichesky court spokeswoman Darya Lyakh said.
In an unusual move, she also declared that the court will broadcast the hearings on its website in order to "give full access" to everyone interested.
One Pussy Riot lawyer, Mark Feygin, said broadcasting court hearings is only occasionally done in terrorism cases and called the decision "suspicious".
"The courtroom is very small, and it is possible the media will not be able to attend," he said.
The defence last week asked for Putin and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill to be called to the witness stand, saying they had key roles in the case. However the judge declined to grant the lawyers' requests for any defence witnesses.
Police blocked off traffic on the entire street in central Moscow, keeping both supporters and critics of Pussy Riot away from the court. Two protesters picketing for freedom of the performers were detained, Russian agencies reported.
Pussy Riot members have won support from both Russian and international cultural figures, and the lead singer of US rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers Anthony Kiedis wore a "Pussy Riot" T-shirt when he performed to a packed stadium in the Russian capital at the weekend.
Acclaimed novelist Boris Akunin came to the courthouse last week, later calling on Russians on his blog to stage a massive protest demanding for the women's freedom and comparing the state prosecution to a monster.
"Whether or not the hairy beast devours the girls alive depends on you and me," he wrote on his blog.
Alex Kapranos, lead singer for Scottish band Franz Ferdinand, also spoke out for Pussy Riot after playing in Moscow over the weekend, asking local fans to show support to its members.
"Any world leader who claims to be a fan of the Beatles and John Lennon... then attempts to imprison contemporary musicians who express their political views, is the worst kind of hypocrite: a dangerous one," he wrote on Twitter.