MOSCOW - Russian police on Thursday detained two women who emulated Pussy Riot activists by donning balaclavas in Moscow's main Orthodox cathedral on Thursday, the first anniversary of the feminist group's protest in the same church.
Security guards seized the two middle-aged women as they placed flowers at the altar of the Christ the Saviour Church and then pulled off their masks. The women were then handed over to police officers, who led them away.
Video footage posted on the Internet showed the women explaining their sympathy with Pussy Riot, two of whose members have been jailed over the band's impromptu performance of a "punk prayer" in the cathedral on 21 February 2012.
That protest was intended to draw attention to the close relationship between Vladimir Putin, who has since returned to Russia's presidency, and the Russian Orthodox Church.
"We think it was a ... heroic deed that they came and told the Church how far it has fallen and what it must do to be a real Church: Not to serve the state but serve God," one of the two women said in the video, posted on the website of the opposition-oriented Novaya Gazeta newspaper.
"So we came because it is clear the women suffered. They are in jail, in difficult conditions. Their children are without their mothers," she said before being detained.
U.S. pop star Madonna and Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi are among those who have called for the two jailed Pussy Riot members to be freed. They are serving two-year sentences on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.
Their protest song, performed at the height of street protests against Putin that have since ebbed, took on two powerful state institutions at once and catapulted them from the margins to the fore of the Russian opposition movement.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina are due to be released in March 2014. A third Pussy Riot member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released on appeal with a suspended sentence