MOSCOW — At the opening of their trial on charges of inciting religious hatred, three young women who performed a crude anti-Putin song on the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior said Monday that they were prepared to take responsibility for "an ethical mistake." But they denied the formal criminal accusations read aloud by prosecutors.
Facing up to seven years in prison if convicted, the three women, members of a punk band called Pussy Riot, said they intended no offense to Orthodox Christians with their profane performance, which they described as a political demonstration.
"We just were not thinking that our action would be offensive to someone," Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, said in a statement read by her lawyer.
Tolokonnikova was held in a glass-enclosed box — along with her co-defendants, Maria Alekhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29 — throughout the daylong proceedings.
"If someone was offended by our performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, I am ready to recognize that we committed an ethical mistake," Tolokonnikova told the judge in her handwritten statement. "This is exactly the error, since we did not have the conscious intention to offend anyone."
The criminal trial of the young musician-activists has become a touchstone in the Russian capital, which is still trying to come to grips with the ramifications of the big street protests that preceded and followed Vladimir Putin's election in May to a third term as president.
The case has become a measure of the Kremlin's resolve in squelching political dissent expressed in unapproved settings.