News

Pussy Riot Is Sentenced to 2 Years in Prison for “Hooliganism”

by Hrag Vartanian on August 17, 2012

The trial of feminist punk group Pussy Riot has attracted global attention and has exposed Russia’s hardline against freedom of expression and dissent. The legal troubles for three band members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, and Maria Alyokhina, 24, began in March when they mounted an impromptu and unauthorized concert in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. They were quickly arrested and held in jail until their trial began in early July. Today, the group was found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” BBC reports that “Judge Marina Syrova convicted the women of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, saying they had ‘crudely undermined social order’.” According to the verdict, the sentence is to begin from the date they were arrested, March 15, 2012.

Chessmaster and Russian opposition activist Garry Kasparov being arrested outside the Pussy Riot trial today. According to BBC, “Mr Kasparov was dragged to a nearby police van he demanded to know why he was being arrested.” (image via Twitterfeed of @venetianblonde)

For those who may not know Pussy Riot, the group is a collective of 10–15 performers, videographers and others, but the three women on trial have become the lightning rod for a court case that has galvanized free speech advocates around the world.

In April, Amnesty International issued a statement saying that:

” … the Russian authorities must recognize that their protest is protected by the right to freedom of expression, guaranteed in international human rights law, drop the charges of hooliganism against Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samusevich, and release them immediately and unconditionally.”

Marina Galperina of Animal NY, who was born and raised in Russia, has been following the trial closely since it began and today she summarized the impact the trial has had on Russia and beyond:

From to Slavoj Žižek condemning Pussy Riot’s persecution as the true blasphemy to just recently, FEMEN, who sawed down a cross in Kiev with a power saw to every other major music celebrity ever, a massive list of Russian intellectuals and public personas and international attention the likes a Russian case has never seen before. But mostly, Pussy Riot have become revolutionary mascots for the hordes of protestors in the streets of Russia, expats abroad and all dissidence within the oppressive system.

The Moscow trial has attracted protesters on both sides of the issue. Journalist Amanda Walker of Sky News reported via tweet that even if the majority of protesters outside the courthouse are pro-Pussy Riot, the pro-Russian Orthodox Church protesters are making more noise.

According to Galperina, who spoke to Hyperallergic about the verdict, the whole trial came across as old-fashioned in many ways. “There was a formal, arcane overtone to it, which is expected — and [it was] hilarious when the judge finally read aloud the lyrics of Punk Prayer, which included the words ‘Shit shit shit holy shit!’,” Galperina explained.

“There were so many drawn out repetitions that at times it felt liks double-speak. The actual legal explanations — as to why the judge shut down objection after objection to Pussy Riot’s action being called a hate crime when it was a political protest — seemed rushed and mumbled,” she said. “Meanwhile, the ‘morally damaged’ victims’s descriptions of being ‘traumatized’ by bright balaclavas, bare shoulders and various unladylike behavior went on and on.”

A screenshot of the controversial Pussy Riot video filmed inside a Russian Orthodox Church in Russia. The video, titled ” “Hail Mary, Putin, Put”” is available for viewing on YouTube. (via Pussy Riot’s YouTube channel)

The trial is widely believed to have been orchestrated by the Russian authorities. Galperina said that observers in Russia were not fooled by the show trial. “A friend of mine whose dad was watching the television in Russia wrote me: ‘My dad just told me that directly after the sentence channel 1 came out with a survey claiming 44% of general public agree with the sentence and 17% opposed,'” Galperina said. Channel 1 is an official Russian news channel known for communicating state propaganda.

Free Pussy Riot protesters in Oslo (via Twitterfeed of @toriaar)

In response to today’s verdict, Amnesty International said,  the “court’s decision today to jail members of the punk rock protest band Pussy Riot is a bitter blow for freedom of expression in the country.” The human rights organization added that they consider “all three activists to be prisoners of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful expression of their beliefs.”

Scenes from today’s protests in New York as protesters march with a banner towards Times Square (left) and a protester in front of the Russian consultate in Manhattan is taken anyway by police (right) (images via @515LM and @Moish )

Soon after the trial concluded, protests have already begun in cities around the world, including in Moscow, New York, Oslo, Edinburgh and elsewhere. The website Free Pussy Riot has a list of current or planned protests in 64 cities across the globe. At least three people have been arrested in New York at a protest in front of the Russian consultate for possibly wearing Pussy Riot-like balaclavas.

Amnesty International’s American chapter is already rallying its membership with the hopes of shipping a truckload of colorful balaclavas to Russian President Vladimir Putin in protest.

  • Subscribe to the Hyperallergic email newsletter!

Hyperallergic welcomes comments and a lively discussion, but comments are moderated after being posted. For more details please read our comment policy.
  • CruickshankHagenbuckle

    In a disconnect—Listen and compare The Dark Knight Rises to Shrin Neshat’s
    Rapture (1999). Even the Bat Bike, throbbing like porn . . .

    (Neshat
    vid: 3 mins)

    Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle

Previous post:

Next post: