Freemuse: The case of Pussy Riot – behind the scenes


30 August 2012

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.

For a view of some of Freemuse’s campaign efforts in this case, see and 

Support groups such as the ‘‘ 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.”

Read also:
Mark LeVine: Artists must stand for each other, everywhere

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’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:

You can support Freemuse’s work for musicians at risk here:
Support Freemuse

Two members of Pussy Riot in court room


At the Freemuse secretariat

Click to read more

Go to top
Related reading on

EU: Freedom of speech debated on Creators Conference
A conference on freedom of speech and authors’ rights is being organised under the High Patronage of the European Parliament on 20 February 2013
12 February 2013
Cameroon/Russia: The artist vs. the state
Video clip of the session ‘THE ARTIST VS. THE STATE: THE CASE OF LAPIRO DE MBANGA AND THE CAMPAIGN FOR PUSSY RIOT’ at the conference ‘All that is Banned is desired’.
14 December 2012
Russia: Interview with released Pussy Riot member
Index on Censorship had the exclusive opportunity to interview Pussy Riot member Ekatrina Samutsevich who was freed by a Moscow court on 10 October 2012.
12 November 2012
Russia: Pussy Riot member freed, two others to remain in prison
A Moscow appeals court freed one of the jailed Pussy Riot members, but upheld the two-year prison sentence for the two others
10 October 2012
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
30 August 2012

Freemuse annual report: Violations of freedom of musical expression in 2012
In 2012 Freemuse registered a total of 173 cases of attacks on musicians and violations of their rights. We reported about six artists who were killed, and 14 were imprisoned
26 February 2013
Freemuse Award 2013
Freemuse Award 2013 is given to Festival au Désert, which defends freedom of musical expression in spite of attempts to silence all music in Mali
06 February 2013
Freemuse received a Danish Music Award 2012
At the venue Global in Copenhagen on 23 November 2012 Freemuse received a Danish Music Award in the category ‘Special Achievement’.
26 November 2012
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
30 August 2012
Freemuse: Manu Chao supports Freemuse campaign
“Freedom of expression is important to anyone and we must fight for it. I am supporting the work of Freemuse and I’m here to help,” says singer Manu Chao
28 August 2012