MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian police detained nine Orthodox activists trying to prevent people attending the opening on Thursday of a Moscow exhibition of modern-style icons inspired by the Pussy Riot punk band.
Three members of the all-female band were jailed for two years last month after storming the altar of Moscow's main cathedral. They had staged a "punk prayer", calling on the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of President Vladimir Putin.
"After the developments with Pussy Riot, after their performance and after they were jailed, we got this idea to make a project devoted to them, to support them and to continue their idea of freedom, freedom of speech and exposure of lies," said Yevgenia Maltseva, posing in front of her large, colorful paintings on black backgrounds.
The exhibition featured female statues with aureoles above their heads and dressed in fluorescent yellow and red, alluding to Pussy Riot's trademark balaclavas.
The Pussy Riot case sparked sharp criticism from the West and triggered emotional reactions at home including ad-hoc nationalist patrols of Russian Orthodox cult sites and a Pussy Riot video in which Putin's portrait was torched.
Putin's critics say the sentences given to Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich are part of a wider crackdown on dissent orchestrated by the Kremlin.
A group of Orthodox activists, some wearing Cossack uniforms, tried to block the entrance to the red-brick gallery in central Moscow. Some shouted "Jesus has risen" when police officers in black riot gear were dragging them away.
"One after another, they stage deliberate actions against the Russian Orthodox Church to destabilize the social and political situation in Russia, to deliberately offend our religious feelings," said one of the activists, Kirill Frolov.
Pussy Riot say their impromptu protest in February was aimed at exposing the close links between the state and the Russian Orthodox Church, which labeled their action blasphemy.
Some of the works exhibited were a variation on the Holy Trinity theme, resembling traditional icons which are often revered in Russia.
The gallery said on its website the aim of the exhibition was to free the icons of their historical background that includes "feudalism, despotism, patriarchate".
An appeal by Pussy Riot is due to start on October 1.
(Reporting by Valery Stepchenkov, writing by Gabriela Baczynska; editing by Robert Woodward)