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Pussy Riot Release New Witch Video to Protest Trial of Kremlin Critic

30/12/2014 11:09 GMT | Updated 28/02/2015 10:59 GMT

The Russian punk-protest band, Pussy Riot, released a new video late Monday night calling for a mass demonstration in Moscow in response to the trial of a prominent opposition activist. It's the band's first video in almost a year.

The video, titled "Witches from Pussy Riot clean the Manezh" shows the women in glam-gothic outfits, sweeping the Manezhnaya Square by the Kremlin in Moscow with witches brooms. Eschewing the neon-balaclavas associated with them, the women wear black dresses and chant the Russian words for "Clean. Honest. Word. Deed."

The minute-long clip produced by bandmembers including Nadya Tolokonnikova and Mariya Alyokhina, promotes a protest demonstration planned to be held on the same square on Tuesday evening in response to the verdict in the trial of Alexei Navalny to be be heard that morning.

"Ahead of the sudden change of the sentencing date of one of the leaders of Russia's opposition Alexei Navalny members of Pussy Riot have decided to do their best to prepare and clean up the Manezhnaya square in downtown Moscow, where the evening rally after Navalny's sentencing will take place," the band explained in a text accompanying the video.

Navalny, an anti-corruption blogger turned protest leader, had become perhaps Russia's most successful opposition activist in years through his exposure of corruption among top officials, but now faces up to nine years in jail following a trial widely viewed as politically motivated.

Pussy Riot released their video after the court date for the verdict in Navalny's trial was unexpectedly brought forward to Tuesday morning, in a move seen as intended to wrong-foot protests in the event of his conviction. The hearing had been scheduled for January 15, when a large demonstration had been planned by his supporters. Authorities had already requested Facebook to block the event's page, where 15,000 people had said they would attend. The protest has since been moved to Tuesday evening.

Navalny and his brother, Oleg are accused of embezzling $526,000 from a subsidiary of Yves Roche, the French perfume company. Navalny is widely expected to be convicted, despite statements from representatives of Yves Roche that they consider he stole nothing from them. Many view the trial as meant to quash the opposition leader's ability to embarrass senior members of Vladimir Putin's regime.

At one time, Navalny was seen as significant challenger to Putin's form of rule, obtaining a considerable portion of the vote in Moscow's 2012 mayoral elections against a Kremlin-backed incumbent and galvanising an unprecedented grass-roots political movement in the city. But since then, he has been steadily squeezed by the authorities and now looks set to become Russia's most prominent political prisoner.

Navalny has already been jailed for 5 years on embezzlement charges in a separate case in July 2013, but then large protests in central Moscow seemingly forced authorities into suspending his sentence. However, he has been under house arrest for most of the past year, after a court ruled he had violated the terms of his release. His arrest on Tuesday would mark Russia's nascent political opposition as largely rolled up.

The apparently brazen falseness of the charges against Navalny and the punishment of his popular efforts to expose corruption may provoke an unusually angry response from Muscovites. How strong the reaction is will be seen as an important test of how far Putin is able to ride his popularity garnered by the annexation of Crimea.

In previous political trials, it has often been possible to exploit the dubious backgrounds of those being convicted. Mikhail Khodorkovsky- formerly Russia's most famous political prisoner until his release last December- was generally considered a criminal by most Russians, even if they don't believe he was jailed for it. Polls showed most Russians felt Pussy Riot themselves deserved to be jailed. But Navalny's reputation is much less mixed; his jailing will be a much more blunt proposition.

Pussy Riot's latest performance recalled one on the other side of the Kremlin in Red Square that first brought the group to to popular attention in November 2012. Shortly afterwards they performed their so-called "punk-prayer" in Moscow's chief cathedral, which would prompted their arrest.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina spent almost two years in prison, convicted of inciting religious hatred, with their case attracting worldwide support, with many Western music stars calling for their release, including Madonna and Paul McCartney. They were pardoned and released last December and have since been touring internationally giving speeches attacking Putin.

Although much more highly produced than the shaky videos that made them famous, the new clip retains some of the group's interest in critiquing the Kremlin's use of Orthodox Christianity to support its rule.

In their text, the women explained that the witch theme was intended to satirize Kremlin propaganda that "has long portrayed everyone who is dissatisfied with the way things are going on the country and wants political change as devils and witches."