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Pussy Riot found guilty for stunt against Putin

FILE In this Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012 file photo feminist punk group Pussy Riot members, from left, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich sit in a glass cage at a court room in Moscow, Russia. Three members of Pussy Riot were jailed in March and charged with hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after their punk performance against President Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral. Theyare awaiting the verdict on Friday, Aug. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze, file)FILE In this Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012 file photo feminist punk group Pussy Riot members, from left, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich sit in a glass cage at a court room in Moscow, Russia. Three members of Pussy Riot were jailed in March and charged with hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after their punk performance against President Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral. Theyare awaiting the verdict on Friday, Aug. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze, file)

MOSCOW (AP) — A judge found three members of the provocative punk band Pussy Riot guilty of hooliganism on Friday, in a case that has drawn widespread international condemnation as an emblem of Russia's intolerance of dissent.

The judge said the three band members "committed hooliganism driven by religious hatred" and offended religious believers. The three were arrested in March after a guerrilla performance in Moscow's main cathedral calling for the Virgin Mary to protect Russia against Vladimir Putin, who was elected to a new term as Russia's president two weeks later.

A masked demonstrator stands in front of a placard reading: 'Justice' in support of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot during a protest outside Spain's Foreign Office in Madrid Thursday Aug. 16, 2012. Three members of Pussy Riot were jailed in March and charged with hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after their punk performance against President Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral. They are awaiting the verdict on Friday, Aug. 17, 2012 (AP Photo/Paul White)A masked demonstrator stands in front of a placard reading: 'Justice' in support of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot during a protest outside Spain's Foreign Office in Madrid Thursday Aug. 16, 2012. Three members of Pussy Riot were jailed in March and charged with hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after their punk performance against President Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral. They are awaiting the verdict on Friday, Aug. 17, 2012 (AP Photo/Paul White)

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23; Maria Alekhina, 24; and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, face a maximum seven years in prison, although the prosecutors asked for a three-year sentence. They stood in a glass cage in the courtroom, sad smiles sometimes flickering on their lips, as the judge read out the testimony of prosecution witnesses accusing them of sacrilege and "devilish dances" in church.

Pussy Riot punk group supporters place masks on a monument to WWII heroes to resemble Pussy Riot members, at an underground station in Moscow on Friday, Aug. 17, 2012. Three group members who were jailed in March following a guerrilla performance denouncing President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main cathedral have unwillingly emerged as vivid — and very different — characters. They await a verdict Friday on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. (AP Photo/Yevgeny Feldman, Novaya Gazeta)Pussy Riot punk group supporters place masks on a monument to WWII heroes to resemble Pussy Riot members, at an underground station in Moscow on Friday, Aug. 17, 2012. Three group members who were jailed in March following a guerrilla performance denouncing President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main cathedral have unwillingly emerged as vivid — and very different — characters. They await a verdict Friday on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. (AP Photo/Yevgeny Feldman, Novaya Gazeta)

On the street outside, hundreds of Pussy Riot supporters chanted "Russia without Putin!" amid a heavy police presence. Police rounded up a few dozen protesters, including former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, who is a leading opposition activist, and leftist opposition group leader Sergei Udaltsov.

Judge Marina Syrova was still reading a synopsis of the case, but the sentence could be handed down at any time.

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)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)

Putin himself has said the band members shouldn't be judged too harshly, perhaps taking note of a wave of global outrage.

Even if the women are sentenced only to the five months already served, the case has already strongly clouded Russia's esteem overseas and stoked the resentment of opposition partisans who have turned out in a series of massive rallies since last winter.

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)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)

It also underlines the vast influence of the Russian Orthodox Church. Although church and state are formally separate, the church identifies itself as the heart of Russian national identity and critics say its strength effectively makes it a quasi-state entity. Some Orthodox groups and many believers are urging strong punishment for an action they consider blasphemous.

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)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)

Celebrities including Paul McCartney, Madonna and Bjork have called for the band members to be freed, and other protests timed to just before the verdict or soon afterward were planned in more than three dozen cities worldwide. In the Russian capital activists put the band's trademark ski masks, or balaclavas, on several statues across town.

"This is all nonsense," said Boris Akunin, one of Russia's best known authors. "I can't believe that in the 21st century a judge in a secular court is talking about devilish movements. I can't believe that a government official is quoting medieval church councils."

Before Friday's proceedings began, defense lawyer Nikolai Polozov said the women "hope for an acquittal but they are ready to continue to fight."

The case comes in the wake of several recently passed laws cracking down on opposition, including one that raised the fine for taking part in an unauthorized demonstrations by 150 times to 300,000 rubles (about $9,000).

Another measure requires non-government organizations that both engage in vaguely defined political activity and receive funding from abroad to register as "foreign agents."

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Lynn Berry, Jim Heintz, Mansur Mirovalev and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.