MOSCOW: Supporters of Russia's powerful Orthodox Church called on the authorities Tuesday to ban Madonna's concerts after the US pop icon called for the release of three members of the Pussy Riot protest band.
Madonna stepped into the controversy surrounding the three young women by saying on her arrival in Moscow that she hoped the band members would not have to serve more jail time for denouncing President Vladimir Putin in a church.
"I am against censorship and my whole career I always promoted freedom of expression, freedom of speech, so obviously I think what's happening to them is unfair and I hope that they do not... I hope they do not have to serve seven years in jail," Madonna told Western journalists in comments picked up by Russian media.
"That would be a tragedy," the US superstar said.
The political protest band performed a "punk prayer" in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February denouncing the Church's open backing for Putin and calling for the Russian strongman's ouster from power.
They have been held in pre-trial detention for five months and face up to three years in jail each if convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.
A spokesman for Russia's Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers -- a support group for the Church that often wages fierce political campaigns -- accused Madonna of interfering in Russia's internal affairs and putting pressure on the courts.
"It is not in our power to ban her, but we call on the authorities -- who position themselves as Orthodox believers -- to do so," the spokesman was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
"This little singer is openly mocking our laws, our traditions and our culture," he said.
Madonna is scheduled to perform later Tuesday in Moscow before doing another show in Saint Petersburg.