Freemuse: The case of Pussy Riot — behind the scenes
Summing up: A talk with Freemuse’s Campaign Officer about how Freemuse has worked on the case of Pussy Riot since three members of the band were detained in March 2012.
Freemuse started following and working on the case of Pussy Riot immediately after the Secretariat received the first notification concerning the arrest of the three members of the Russian punk collective Pussy Riot in March 2012.
After verifying the information and the details that led to their arrest, Freemuse donated money for their legal support and started campaigning for their release. As the pre-trial detention was prolonged again and again, Freemuse Campaign Officer Martin Buch Larsen and his colleagues carefully monitored and documented the developments of the case, created a campaign and action logfile, a court file archive, and sent out media alerts and appeal letters to the Russian authorities.
Support groups such as the ‘freepussyriot.org‘ have also done an impressive job reaching out to the media on various online platforms, and also had direct contact with the defence lawyers and the artists’ families and relatives. Later, media campaign busters such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch joined the rally. Are there some ‘lessons learned’ from this case? “We knew from the beginning that exercising pressure on the Russian authorities in this case through appeals and media campaigns was not to going to be easy, but we have been positively surprised that the case got so much media attention — not least because so many fellow popular musicians and artists expressed solidarity with their imprisoned colleagues,” said Martin Buch Larsen.
Why do you think that the Pussy Riot trial gained such media coverage?
“The media campaign and lobby efforts by Freemuse and other support groups for the three members did get an impressive media coverage before the verdict was handed down on 17 August 2012. However, I believe that artists, the media and not least the political and diplomatic machinery could have joined the campaign much earlier, and could have exercised even greater pressure on the Russian authorities.”
–>Freemuse had been documenting the case for almost four months before the case began to attract the interest of international media and politicians abroad. According to Martin Buch Larsen, the immense attention and media coverage of the case that was generated in July 2012, was mainly due to two things:
“When popular artists, musicians and diginitaries started showing their solidarity at concerts and public gatherings, the media suddenly showed a lot more interest in the Pussy Riot case. The importance of popular musicians and other artists showing solidarity should and must not be understated and this case clearly shows that the ‘fame factor’ is still a powerful tool for generating publicity.
Secondly, the Pussy Riot performances ‘looked good’ in the media: Colourful balaclavas, jumping girls at a Moscow church altar and headbanging on the Red Square in snowy weather easily attracted the eye of the public and that of the media. The group has been careful and strategic in picking the locations and outfit for their happenings – and communicated clearly to both local and foreign media via Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.”
Media attention “For our future work on cases where we seek to generate publicity and also reach those not normally interested in cases of artistic freedom of expression, we note how important it is to get the international media involved. Without the substantial media coverage, I doubt that the 121 German MPs and other political leaders around the world would have involved themselves or even shown any interest for the case.
In addition, I also believe that this case shows how effective social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube can be in campaigns and in mobilising ‘the outside world’ to draw attention to cases of artistic freedom of expression. On the day of the verdict, artist and activists, with help from social media mobilisation, staged events and happenings on five continents in more than 30 countries and in almost 70 cities — from Buenos Aires to Kaliningrad, from Perm to Brisbane.
Sadly, persecuted musicians and artists that Freemuse have supported in countries such as Cameroon, Iran, Morocco and Cuba have not received a similar coverage by the international media and social media activists.”
Do you think Pussy Riot sets an example to other artists? “I think the case of Pussy Riot is a unique case that calls for further action. We will not end our campaign for Pussy Riot here — or other persecuted musicians and artists for that matter — even though it is hard to tell from the verdict given to the three women, whether all the campaigning, lobby-work and ‘international noise’ had any effect on the judges decision.
This case sets a brilliant example of how great attention imprisoned artists may and can receive when campaign groups such as Freemuse together with their artist ‘colleagues’ help mobilise the media and the political system.
Sadly, our experience is that, whilst showing solidarity, giving social and political statements is something many musicians and artists have at heart, they are very often prevented from interferring by economic and political priorities of their managers and labels. More often than not, music companies and band managers will recommend an artist or a band to ‘stay out of politics’.
Consequently, Freemuse is currently campaigning to call its’ ambassadors and partners in the music industry to engage – not only in the Pussy Riot case – but also in other cases of persecuted and imprisoned artists.”
Other current Freemuse campaigns for persecuted musicians There are numerous other persecuted and imprisoned artists around the world, who haven’t received similar support and solidarity from their their artists ‘colleagues’ – or the international media. Freemuse is currently involved in a number of campaigns for other persecuted artists — for an overview, see: freemuse.org/sw413.asp
Freemuse’s priorities follows the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which gurantees the rights to freedom of expression. For more about Freemuse’s mandate, see: freemuse.org/sw184.asp