Madonna asks for leniency at Russian rockers trial

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U.S. singer Madonna greets her fans at the opening of the new fitness club in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012. Madonna has voiced hope that three feminist Russian rockers on trial for performing a "punk prayer" against Vladimir Putin are released soon. The pop star told the AP during her concert tour of Russia that she supports freedom of speech and hopes the judge will show leniency. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

MOSCOW (AP) — Madonna voiced hope Monday that three feminist Russian rockers on trial for performing a "punk prayer" against Vladimir Putin will be released soon.

"Obviously I believe in freedom of speech and I'm against censorship, so I hope that the judge is lenient with them and that they are freed soon," the pop star told The Associated Press during a concert tour of Russia.

Two weeks before Putin's return to the presidency in a March election, five members of the Pussy Riot band staged their political protest in Moscow's main cathedral, singing "Virgin Mary, drive Putin away!"

Three of them were arrested, and have spent five months in custody on charges of hooliganism. They face up to seven years in prison if convicted. International rights groups have called them prisoners of conscience, and leading musicians have called for their release.

During her interview, Madonna also shared impressions about her MDNA world tour, saying that performing in London's Hyde Park was "really great." She said she also enjoyed "the intimacy of it being able to be so close to my fans" at a much smaller show in Paris' Olympia Theatre.

Madonna, who is a co-partner in a new chain of global gyms, Hard Candy Fitness, also attended the opening Monday of one in Moscow.

"Exercise is a really big part of my life, everybody knows that. I work out, I've been working out all my life dancing, training for my shows," she said. "My live shows are extremely physical and if I don't stay in shape I can't do them. Rather than going to gyms and complaining about what I don't like about them I just decided to create my own and that way I can design the perfect gym."