Dozens of Russians clenching flowers gathered in Moscow on Saturday (local time) in support of three sisters on trial for killing their abusive father in a case that has reignited a debate over domestic violence in Russia.
On the evening of July 28 last year, Krestina, Angelina, and Maria Khachaturyan approached their sleeping father and attacked him with a knife, a hammer and pepper spray. They say they acted in self-defence after suffering years of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse at the hands of their 57-year-old father, Al Jazeera reported.
But prosecutors are calling for the girls, now aged 18, 19 and 20, to be convicted of premeditated murder, an offence that carries a maximum of 20 years behind bars.
Supporters of the Khachaturyan sisters have a different take over the incident who summed it up in their online appeal for Muscovites to take to the streets en masse on August 3.
"These are women self-defenders who are under investigation for not allowing themselves to be killed and raped," it said.
Throughout the day on Saturday, dozens of protestors laid flowers in front of the general prosecutor's office as part of an ongoing campaign backing the Khachaturyan sisters.
"The case is not being investigated properly," Maria Siprikova, one of the participants at the gathering, told Al Jazeera as the police watched on.
"This is a case of self-defence against a violent father, not murder. We want the authorities to introduce laws against domestic violence and free the sisters," she added.
Their campaign comes at a critical moment in Russia as several high-profile stories have brought the issue of domestic violence to the public's attention.
Police have been criticised for failing to act in the case of Margarita Gracheva, whose husband cut off her hands in 2017, even though she had complained to the police about the abuse.
A sweeping report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in October last year found the police systematically failed to act on credible reports of abuse and instead "often treat victims of domestic violence with open hostility and refuse to register or investigate their complaints of domestic violence".
The Khachaturyan girl's lawyer, Alexei Parshin, has said that neighbours reported the father to police several times, but criminal proceedings were not initiated against him.
Activists say President Vladimir Putin's decision to decriminalise domestic violence in 2017 has made it difficult for victims to seek protection from their abusers. They also point to a chronic lack of shelters for women and the fact that protection orders do not exist in the Russian legal system.
The Kremlin has yet to comment publicly on the case but Moscow city authorities have so far blocked multiple requests from activists to hold official rallies, including next weekend's.
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