Russia: Detention of Pussy Riot members extended to three months

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Russia:
Detention of Pussy Riot members extended to three months

Following the punk group Pussy Riot’s protest song in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral on 21 February 2012, Russian authorities arrested three women who are held in detention until their case comes before court on 24 June.

Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were arrested on 4 March 2012 and Ekaterina Samusevich was arrested on 15 March, all three accused of being the masked singers of Pussy Riot. They face up to seven years in prison if convicted on the charges of hooliganism.

Deny involvement
The women admit to being members of the larger ‘Pussy Riot’ group, but deny any involvement in the particular protest in the cathedral. The three women have been in custody since their arrest, awaiting trial. On Thursday 19 April 2012, a Moscow court ruled in favour of the prosecutors asking for the detention to be extended until 24 June. Investigators said that they need more time to search for witnesses and other participants in the unauthorized concert.

Both Alyokhina and Tolonnikova have young children. In the hearing, Tolonnikova argued that her four-year-old-daughter is suffering psychologically from their separation.

Prisoners of conscience
In a public statement Amnesty International calls for immediate and unconditional release of the three women: ”Even if the three arrested women did take part in the protest, the severity of the response of the Russian authorities – the detention on the serious criminal charge of hooliganism – would not be a justifiable response to the peaceful – if, to many, offensive – expression of their political beliefs. They would therefore be prisoners of conscience.”

The activists left the Cathedral when requested to do so and caused no damage. The entire action only lasted a few minutes and although it was calculated to shock and was likely to cause some offence, the disruption to the people attending the Cathedral was minimal.

According to Amnesty International, the arrested women have to pay the prize for the broader political context surrounding the anti-Putin protests at the time: “the anti-clerical, anti-Putin content of the activists’ message (themselves unpunishable) – have clearly and unlawfully been taken into account in the charges that have been brought against them.”

Free Pussy Riot
Support actions have taken place and are scheduled in various countries. The web page www.freepussyriot.org announces benefit gigs and invites people to rally and show their support in front of Russian Embassies.

Musician Kathleen Hanna from Le Tigre and Bikini Kill has shown her support to the arrested women in a video posted on her blog. Another famous supporter is Russian pop icon Alla Pugachyova who compared the imprisoning of the suspects to “shooting sparrows with a canon”. Even a number of public and Orthodox Church figures have called for the release of the three women.

Protesters detained
On 19 April 2012 more than 100 demonstrators and journalists had gathered outside the Tagansky Court building in downtown Moscow before the appearance of Alyokhina, Tolokonnikova and Samusevich. The Moscow Times reports that 30 Pussy Riot supporters were detained when demonstrating outside the court. (Other sources say 13 people were detained.) Police arrested anyone with signs or wearing t-shirts with slogans expressing support for the group.



The punk group Pussy Riot is one of the most controversial voices in Russia today



Russia


About Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot formed in September 2011, only days after Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he intended to return to presidency. “A lot of us couldn’t sleep after this announcement”, ‘Tyurya’ – one of the founding members – told the Guardian. “So we decided, damn it, we need to do something. We always went to protests and things, but it seemed to us we needed to do something more.”

In the beginning, the band performed on trams and in the metro and other unexpected places, and videos of these flash gigs with critical lyrics began spreading on the internet. The feminist punk-band and their provocative anti-Putin lyrics soon became a symbol of the Russian youth’s discontent.

In the end of 2011, Pussy Riot held a short support concert on top of the prison where protest leader Alexey Navalny was jailed for 15 days after his arrest during the post-election protest on 5 December. “Death to prison! Freedom to protest!”, three of the members sang while setting off red flares.

In mid-January 2012 the band made the news-papers with a performance on the Red Square. Eight women stood in line opposite the Kremlin, fists pounding in the air singing and shouting: “Revolt in Russia – the charisma of protest! Revolt in Russia, Putin’s got scared!” The protest only lasted for a few minutes before the women were arrested. They were questioned and released with administrative fines instead of the 15-day jail sentences that are often received by those staging illegal protests.

Pussy Riot are hard-core feminists inspired by Russian revolutionaries: “There is a deep tradition in Russia of gender and women – we’ve had amazing women revolutionaries”, ‘Garazhda’ told the Guardian. “The revolution should be done by women”, she said. “For now, they don’t beat or jail us as much.” The interview was conducted before the arrest of Alyokhina, Tolokonnikova and Samusevich.

The punk collective consists of roughly 30 people including crew. Pussy Riot members are sworn to anonymity, wearing brightly coloured balaclavas hiding their faces during concerts as wells as interviews.

On 21 February 2012, five members of Pussy Riot wearing colourful dresses, stockings and knitted neon balaclavas, danced, bowed and crossed themselves while singing an acapella version of a song entitled ‘Holy Sh*t’ at the altar in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral. The ‘punk-prayer’ has the chorus: “Virgin Mary, Become Feminist. Virgin Mary, Hash Putin Away”. The performance lasted for less than a minute after which the band members are removed from the church by the guards.

On 4 March 2012 Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were arrested and on 15 March Ekaterina Samusevich was arrested, all three accused of being the masked singers of Pussy Riot performing in Christ the Saviour Cathedral. They face up to seven years in prison if convicted on the charges of hooliganism.

Sources

Free Pussy Riot campaign web page:

freepussyriot.org

Ria Novosti – 17 April 2012:

‘Protesters Detained Ahead of Pussy Riot Court Appearance’

BBC UK – 19 April 2012:

‘Russia election: Arrests at ‘Pussy Riot’ hearing’

The Moscow Times – 5 March 2011:

‘Demonstrators Arrested at Pussy Riot Hearing’

Ria Novosti – 16 April 2012:

‘Russia’s pop queen wants freedom for Pussy Riot’

Amnesty International Public Statement – 3 April 2012:

‘Russia: Release punk singers held after performance in church’

Cathleen Hanna’s blog – 27 March 2012:

‘Free Pussy Riot!!!!’

The Guardian – 2 February 2012:

‘Feminist punk band Pussy Riot take revolt to the Kremlin’

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