The trial of three women who staged a peaceful protest in a church has focused worldwide attention on the growing crackdown in Russia since Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency in May, writes Tom Parfitt.
Look to your right in room number seven at Moscow's Khamovnichesky Court and you could be in a family living room. Beige walls, a row of pot plants standing on four window-sills bathed in sunlight. But turn your gaze to the left and an altogether different scene meets the eye: a man in camouflage fatigues holding an Alsatian on a leash, two black-clad men cradling assault rifles and, between them, three well-groomed young women sitting in a glass and steel box. The women, casually dressed, are Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alekhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29: feminist activists from the group called Pussy Riot, who face up to seven years in jail if convicted for staging a peaceful protest in an Orthodox church. Their trial, which began last week and will continue on Monday, has focused worldwide attention on the growing crackdown in Russia since Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency in May. A raft of repressive laws approved in parliament, the dubious criminal prosecution of a prominent opposition leader and a series of raids on activists' homes have, for many Russians, eclipsed the hopes of democratic progress they indulged during the one-term presidency of Dmitry Medvedev, Mr Putin's predecessor and ally.