Lucy Popescu

freedom to write, review, travel…

Free expression – Pussy Riot

Posted by lucypopescu on May 13, 2012

Vladimir Putin recently claimed that democracy is the fundamental right of the people to elect their government as well as to continuously influence it and the decision-making process. Yet the recent detention of three members of an all-female punk band for a protest performance suggests that state censorship and violations against free expression remain as strong as ever in Russia.

An authoritarian regime inevitably forces dissidents to create new, often artistic, forms of resistance. In late 2011 a group of Russian feminists formed a punk rock band, Pussy Riot, in order to protest against Vladimir Putin’s decision to return as president. They staged unannounced “flash” performances in outdoor spaces and on public transport. Their imaginative interventions gained wider attention in January 2012, when they held a brief performance outside the Kremlin. Their lyrics included the lines “Revolt in Russia – the charisma of protest! Revolt in Russia, Putin’s got scared!” They were arrested and fined.

On 21 February 2012, four members of the band entered the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow, wearing colourful outfits and balaclavas to hide their faces. They danced in front of the altar, singing a “punk prayer” before being escorted from the building. The song was critical of Putin and the Russian Orthodox church’s close ties to the Kremlin. The action lasted only a few minutes, there was no violence and the activists caused no damage.

Three members of the band, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samusevich were later arrested and charged with “hooliganism” under Article 213 of the Russian Criminal Code. If convicted, they face up to seven years in prison. The women claim that they were not among the masked performers at the Cathedral. Both Alyokhina and Tolonnikova have young children and Tolonnikova claims that her four-year-old-daughter is traumatised by her imprisonment.

On 19 April, the Tagansky Court in Moscow extended their pre-trial detention to 24 June arguing that further time is needed to find witnesses and participants at the event. More than 100 demonstrators and journalists gathered outside the court, some of whom were detained. Police reportedly arrested anyone with signs or slogans related to the group. The women have also received support from mainstream pop artists calling for their release, among them Russian popstar, Alla Pugachyova, who described the arrests as “shooting sparrows with a cannon”.

Lobby groups such as Amnesty International, Freemuse and PEN have denounced the charges, believing the women have been targeted for the peaceful expression of their political beliefs. Amnesty has declared them “prisoners of conscience”.

Many are now sending appeals to President Putin via the Kremlin website calling for the release of the three women who are detained for their protest songs as this in direct violation of their right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Russia.

Originally pulished in the Independent

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