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An Appeal, a Murder and Cultural Clashes: Pussy Riot Update

by Jillian Steinhauer on August 31, 2012

A screenshot of the Pussy Riot women awaiting the verdict in their trial (via Pussy Riot’s English YouTube channel)

The Pussy Riot sentencing has come and gone, but there’s still plenty happening in Russia as the country deals with the aftermath of the highly publicized, highly political trial that focused international attention — most of it disapproval and outrage — on the Putin government.

As for Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alyokhina, the three members of Pussy Riot who were sentenced to two years in prison for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,” Mother Jones reports that their lawyer has filed an appeal. Apparently this could result in a decreased sentence, although the legal assistant who spoke with the magazine pointed out that this is most likely a case in which the verdict was handed down by Putin and his government, not by the actual judge — which means it will be up to Putin to soften the penalty.

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)

But time is crucial, as the women will serve the remainder of their terms (they were sentenced starting from their date of arrest, March 15, 2012) at harsh penal colonies, which Pussy Riot’s lawyers worry “could be a matter of life or death.” According to Mother Jones:

[Legal assistant Alisa] Obraztsova explains that it’s likely the women would be split up among several prison camps, where they would stay in 100-person barracks with women convicted for murder, or other dangerous felonies. Then there’s religious and anti-Pussy Riot fervor to consider. “A man was raped [with] a bottle of champagne in a police office,” Obraztsova says, referencing the gruesome case from March in which a 52-year-old man died after being detained by Russian police. “What can we expect from the penal colony?”

Meanwhile, the trial has provoked a number of reactions and incidents, some violent, around the country. Pussy Riot sympathizers have graffitied churches with slogans and statements of support, and four crosses were torn down. The latter actions may have been inspired by the Ukrainian feminist group Femen. Members of the group, which stages its protests topless, razed a church cross in Kiev with a crucifix on the day of Pussy Riot’s sentencing. But one journalist writing for Ukrainian newspaper The Day was unimpressed, comparing the two groups this way:

The difference between Pussy Riot and FEMEN is like one between a surgeon and a street bully. The former worked with scalpel-style accuracy and exposed a cluster of burning problems, while the latter are just kicking in the air all around, usually simulating a strike but still hoping to hit some vulnerable spot.

The religious attacks, however, have triggered a backlash: an Orthodox Christian group has begun creating squads of volunteers to patrol religious sites and protect them from “enemies of faith,” and there have been incidents of Orthodox activists ripping pro–Pussy Riot T-shirts off of people on the street, as well as storming a theater performance devoted to the trial.

“Free! Pussy Riot” written, most likely in blood, at the scene of a murder (image via en.gazeta.ru)

Most disturbingly, two women, one 76 years old, the other 38, were murdered in the city of Kazan last weekend, and the words “Free! Pussy Riot” were apparently found written in blood on a wall above the bodies. According to the Guardian, the police arrested a man who confessed to the crime and told police he was trying to mislead them by writing the slogan.

While it’s a relief that a Pussy Riot supporter didn’t actually thinking murdering two innocent women was a good idea, the case will no doubt fuel the country’s rapidly rising tensions. In fact, it sounds like it already has. The tabloid paper Life News published images of the writing, and its owner tweeted, “If you still think that breaking the norms of behaviour in a church doesn’t change anything, then I recommend you read the latest news.”

For those in Brooklyn who want to help out, there’s a dance party benefit for Pussy Riot’s Legal Defense Fund tonight at Public Assembly.

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  • Lefty

    A street artist, this is my first visit to this site. I’ve seen this video of the activist chainsawing the cross elsewhere and her bare breasts, an essential part of her performance art, were not blurred out in that video.
    The artist, as a woman supporting Pussy Riot, was making a point and you have censored her artistic expression. What kind of art site censors an art piece? You moderate comments too!

    Why does this site even exist? There is no need for more banality and cowardice in the art community? I will not be back.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      Perhaps you didn’t realize that the video you are mentioning is not our video but someone else’s. Or do you dislike when facts gets in the way?

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