Three members of an all-girl punk band who were charged with hooliganism after singing an anti-Vladimir Putin song in a Russian church went on hunger strike Wednesday after a ruling to fast-track their case.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alekhina -- all members of Pussy Riot -- swore off food after a Moscow court ruled Wednesday they and their lawyers had only five more days to study the case materials.
"I announce a hunger strike because it is unlawful," said Tolokonnikova, wearing a T-shirt with the famous slogan of the Spanish Civil War, "No pasaran!" ("They shall not pass"), emblazoned across it.
"Until July 9th is not enough (time) for me. I think it is absolutely unlawful," she said in the Tagansky district court.
"I am categorically against it and I announce a hunger strike," Alekhina also said after the court delivered a separate ruling on her and another one on Samutsevich.
The defence team wants to have until September 1 to read the materials, with attorney Mark Feigin saying they had to read through nearly 2,800 pages not including electronic evidence.
The rulings come after investigators appealed to bring forward the trial of the women, claiming lawyers are dragging out the case.
"That will be enough time to read the materials," the judge said.
Defence attorney Nikolai Polozov accused the judge of carrying out a political order.
"This is a return to the Stalin trials," he said. Speaking to reporters, he also said their team came under pressure from the investigation.
"It is harder and harder for the investigation to answer what they are jailed for," he told AFP. "Basically their job now is to hold the trial as fast as possible, hand down a sentence and send them to a prison colony."
In a repeat of the chaotic scenes that have marked most of the legal process against the three members of the rock band, police detained around a dozen Pussy Riot supporters who gathered outside the court in central Moscow.
Those detained included three activists who locked themselves in a metal cage outside the courtroom before police cut the locks and whisked them away, an AFP correspondent said.
Tolokonnikova, Samutsevich and Alekhina were arrested after their band barged into Russia's main cathedral, Church of Christ the Saviour, in February and have been detained since March.
The masked women sang a song calling for Putin's ouster and criticising the Russian Orthodox Church's close ties to the Kremlin.
The young women, two of whom have children, are charged with hooliganism by an organised group, an offence with a maximum jail term of seven years.
The trio have now been held in pre-trial detention for around four months in defiance of pleas from supporters for them to be released.
Polozov said a preliminary hearing of their trial was likely to take place between July 19 and July 24. The women are currently detained until July 24.
Their performance has caused an uproar and proved highly polarising in the predominantly Orthodox country.
Thousands of worshippers say the women desecrated holy relics kept in the church, while their supporters said the possible punishment would be exceptionally harsh.
Over 100 of Russia's best known actors, directors and musicians called for the women's release in an open letter last month, saying they presented no "real danger" to society and that the criminal case against them compromised the Russian judicial system.
A Pussy Riot supporter wearing a T-shirt with a slogan saying "Virgin Mary hears us" expressed doubt that the high-profile support would help the arrested singers.
"I think the behaviour of the state is absolutely criminal in using the church to cover up their acts. This is a deeply political case," historian Yelena Glushko said outside the courtroom.© ANP/AFP