Madonna has used a performance in Moscow to rail against the trial of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, calling it a "tragedy".

The three members of the band, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich stormed the altar of Moscow's Christ the Saviour cathedral in February to perform a "punk prayer" calling on the Virgin Mary to rid the country of then prime minister Vladimir Putin, who is now Russia's president.

The trial of the members for "religious hatred", which is closing this week, has attracted attention from pop and rock stars around the world, including Sting, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Jarvis Cocker and Johnny Marr.

madonna moscow

Madonna, opening her new fitness centre in Moscow, has drawn attention to the plight of Pussy Riot

Madonna, who was in Moscow to give a concert and launch her own fitness club, weighed into the debate, which has divided the country.

She told Reuters: "I am against censorship and throughout my whole career I've always promoted freedom of expression, freedom of speech. So obviously, I think that what happened to them (Pussy Riot) is unfair.

"I hope they do not have to serve seven years in jail. That would be a tragedy.

"I think art should be political. Historically speaking, art always reflects what's going on socially.

So for me, it's hard to separate the idea of being an artist and being political."

pussy riot

Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alekhina

On Tuesday, state prosecutor Alexei Nikiforov requested three years' prison for the women, saying in closing arguments that they had "set themselves up against the Orthodox Christian world.

"The actions of the accomplices clearly show religious hatred and enmity. Using swear words in a church is an abuse of God."

One of Russia's most prominent prisoners, former oil tycoon Mikhail Khordorkovsky, has likened the trial to a medieval inquisition.

The businessman said in a statement on his website: "It’s painful to follow events in Moscow’s Khamovnichesky court where Masha, Katya and Nadya are being tried.

pussy riot

A woman wears a T-shirt with Putin's picture and the inscription: "A very dangerous criminal wanted. Reward: A free Russia" and holds a poster that reads: "This is not the court, this is a lynching!"

“The word ‘tried’ can be used here only in the sense in which it was used by medieval inquisitors.The mistakes of radicalism can be excused by youth.

"I call on all thinking, educated and simply good and kind people to send words of hope to the girls.”

He said the girls would be locked in a glass cage in the courtroom for 11 hours a day, with only instant noodles to eat, and would only have three hours sleep in their cells at night.

The UK's shadow Foreign Minister Kerry McCarthy has been in court in Moscow, following the punk band's trial and tweeting her reactions.


Kerry McCarthy MP
In courtroom in Moscow for trial. Nadya, Katya and Masha just been brought in, put in glass box, press/ public now cramming in.


Kerry McCarthy MP
I keep being asked what would happen in UK if style band staged 40 second performance in St Paul’s and left when asked?


Kerry McCarthy MP
I say not sure, maybe public order offence at most, bound over, ticked off? Wouldn’t be facing 7 year prison sentence that’s for sure.


Kerry McCarthy MP
Victims lawyer seems to be arguing that aren’t Orthodox Christians & should therefore go to jail?


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  • Feminist punk group Pussy Riot members, from left, Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass cage at a court room in Moscow, Russia on Friday, Aug 17, 2012. The women, two of whom have young children, are charged with hooliganism connected to religious hatred but the case is widely seen as a warning that authorities will only tolerate opposition under tightly controlled conditions. T-shirt on right worn by Tolokonnikova is Spanish and translates to "They shall not pass", a slogan often used to express determination to defend a position against an enemy. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

  • Yekaterina Samutsevich, right, a member of feminist punk group Pussy Riot is excorted to a court room in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Aug. 17, 2012. Security is tight around a Moscow courthouse where three members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot are to hear the verdict Friday in a trial that could send them to prison for seven years. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)

  • Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, right, a member of feminist punk group Pussy Riot is escorted to a court room in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Aug. 17, 2012. Security is tight around the Moscow courthouse where three members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot are to hear the verdict Friday in a trial that could send them to prison for seven years. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)

  • Feminist punk group Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sits at a glass cage at a court in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Aug. 17, 2012. Security is tight around the Moscow courthouse where three members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot are to hear the verdict Friday in a trial that could send them to prison for seven years. T-shirt on right worn by Tolokonnikova is Spanish and translates to "They shall not pass", a slogan often used to express determination to defend a position against an enemy. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)

  • Feminist punk group Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich sits inside a glass cage at a court in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Aug. 17, 2012. Security is tight around a Moscow courthouse where three members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot are to hear the verdict Friday in a trial that could send them to prison for seven years. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)

  • Feminist punk group Pussy Riot member Maria Alekhina sits inside a glass cage at a court in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Aug. 17, 2012. Security is tight around a Moscow courthouse where three members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot are to hear the verdict Friday in a trial that could send them to prison for seven years. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)

  • Feminist punk group Pussy Riot members, from left, Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass cage at a court room in Moscow, Russia on Friday, Aug 17, 2012. The women, two of whom have young children, are charged with hooliganism connected to religious hatred, but the case is widely seen as a warning that authorities will only tolerate opposition under tightly controlled conditions.(AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)

  • Feminist punk group Pussy Riot members, from left, Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass cage at a court room in Moscow, Russia on Friday, Aug 17, 2012. The women, two of whom have young children, are charged with hooliganism connected to religious hatred. But the case is widely seen as a warning that authorities will tolerate opposition only under tightly controlled conditions.T-shirt on right worn by Tolokonnikova is Spanish and translates to "They shall not pass", a slogan often used to express determination to defend a position against an enemy.(AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)

  • Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, right, Yekaterina Samutsevich, left, and Maria Alekhina, center, members of feminist punk group Pussy Riot seen behind a glass wall at a court in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Aug. 17, 2012. The three members who were jailed in March following a guerrilla performance denouncing President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main cathedral, and they now face a maximum seven years in jail. T-shirt on right worn by Tolokonnikova is Spanish and translates to "They shall not pass", a slogan often used to express determination to defend a position against an enemy. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

  • Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, right, Yekaterina Samutsevich, left, and Maria Alekhina, center, members of feminist punk group Pussy Riot seen behind a glass wall at a court in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Aug. 17, 2012.

  • Feminist punk group Pussy Riot members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, right, Maria Alekhina, center, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, sit in a glass cage at a court room in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Aug. 17, 2012. The three women in the band have been in jail for more than five months because of a prank they carried out in Moscow's main cathedral in a demonstration against Russia's Vladimir Putin, and they now face a maximum seven years in jail. T-shirt on right worn by Tolokonnikova is Spanish and translates to "They shall not pass", a slogan often used to express determination to defend a position against an enemy. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)

  • Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of female Russian punk band Pussy Riot, stands inside defendands cage in a Moscow court, on April 19, 2012, during the hearings on the Pussy Riot case. Three members of the all-woman punk band 'Pussy Riot' were detained two months ago, after they climbed on the altar of Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral -- the country's central place of worship -- and sang a song they called a 'Punk Prayer'. The women have been charged with hooliganism committed by an organised group -- an unusually harsh charge for protesters. (Photo credit: ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Members of the all-girl punk band 'Pussy Riot' Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (L), Maria Alyokhina (R) and Yekaterina Samutsevich (C), sit behind bars during a court hearing in Moscow on July 30, 2012. In February, five women walked silently into Moscow's Church of Christ the Saviour before clambering over railings, pulling on balaclavas and yelling out a protest song against Vladimir Putin. The 'punk prayer' by the all-woman group Pussy Riot lasted around a minute. Three women arrested in March over the incident face up to seven years in a prison colony after being charged with hooliganism and have already spent four months awaiting trial . (Photo credit: ANDREY SMIRNOV/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Members of the all-girl punk band 'Pussy Riot' Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (L), Maria Alyokhina (R) and Yekaterina Samutsevich (C), sit behind bars during a court hearing in Moscow on July 30, 2012. In February, five women walked silently into Moscow's Church of Christ the Saviour before clambering over railings, pulling on balaclavas and yelling out a protest song against Vladimir Putin. The 'punk prayer' by the all-woman group Pussy Riot lasted around a minute. Three women arrested in March over the incident face up to seven years in a prison colony after being charged with hooliganism and have already spent four months awaiting trial . (Photo credit: ANDREY SMIRNOV/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Members of the all-girl punk band 'Pussy Riot' Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (L), Maria Alyokhina (R) and Yekaterina Samutsevich (C), sit behind bars during a court hearing in Moscow on July 23, 2012. Three members of the all-woman punk band 'Pussy Riot' Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich were detained, after they climbed on the altar of Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral on February 21, 2012 - the country's central place of worship - and sang a song they called a 'Punk Prayer'. The women have been charged with hooliganism committed by an organised group - an unusually harsh charge for protesters. (Photo credit: ANDREY SMIRNOV/AFP/GettyImages)

  • A Police officer escorts a member of female punk band 'Pussy Riot' Nadezhda Tolokonnikova during a court hearing in Moscow on July 20, 2012. Three members of the all-woman punk band 'Pussy Riot' Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich were detained, after they climbed on the altar of Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral on February 21, 2012 - the country's central place of worship - and sang a song they called a 'Punk Prayer'. The women have been charged with hooliganism committed by an organised group - an unusually harsh charge for protesters. (Photo credit: ANDREY SMIRNOV/AFP/GettyImages)

  • One of the few supporters of female Russian punk band Pussy Riot rally outside a Moscow court, on July 9, 2012, to support the musicians during the hearings on the Pussy Riot case. Three members of the all-woman punk band 'Pussy Riot' were detained, after wearing masks they climbed on the altar of Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral - the country's central place of worship - and sang a song they called a 'Punk Prayer'. The women have been charged with hooliganism committed by an organised group - an unusually harsh charge for protesters. (Photo credit: ANDREY SMIRNOV/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Supporters of female Russian punk band Pussy Riot, who were detained outside a Moscow court during the hearings on the Pussy Riot case, on July 4, 2012, wave from window of a police bus. Three members of the all-woman punk band 'Pussy Riot' were detained, after they climbed on the altar of Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral - the country's central place of worship - and sang a song they called a 'Punk Prayer'. The women have been charged with hooliganism committed by an organised group - an unusually harsh charge for protesters. (Photo credit: ANDREY SMIRNOV/AFP/GettyImages)

  • A man writes on a wall dedicated to supporting the detained members of the Russian all-girl punk rock band Pussy Riot on June 18, 2012, in Prague. The members of the radical group climbed on the altar of Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral -- the country's central place of worship -- on February 21 and sang a song they called a 'Punk Prayer' before being seized by guards. The women have been charged with hooliganism committed by an organised group -- an unusually harsh charge for protesters - and face a potential 7 years in prison. (Photo credit: MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/GettyImages)