Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday he did not favour a tough punishment for the three members of an all-girl punk band who performed a song against his rule in Moscow's main cathedral.
"There is nothing good in what they did," news agencies quoted Putin as saying in reference to the three Pussy Riot members. "Nevertheless, I do not think that they should be judged too severely for this."
Putin's first comments on a case that has split Russian opinion and drawn concern from both global music stars and Western states suggests a lenient ruling in an ongoing trial of the three 20-something part-time musicians.
The band — its members dressed in tight neon dresses and knitted balaclavas — in February performed a "punk prayer" in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral that included lyrics condemning the Church's open support for the state.
Their song also called on the Virgin Mary to "chase Putin out" of power.
The three arrested band members face up to seven years in prison if convicted of hooliganism.
Putin told reporters in London following talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron that he hoped the Pussy Riot members "will draw their own conclusions" and learn from their mistakes.
Putin has developed a history of issuing carefully phrased comments about high-profile trials that end up coinciding with the final verdict issued by the court.
He once noted that "a thief should be in prison" before a Moscow court controversially extended the jail stay of Yukos oil company founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2010.
Yet Putin stressed on Thursday that the court should have the final say in what happens to the three band members — already in pre-trial detention for five months — and that he had originally preferred not to talk about the case.
"It is the court that issues the final ruling," said Putin.