It sounds like something from Stalinist Russia. Musicians expressing anti-government, political views are arrested and put on trial. But the case of Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich from the band, Pussy Riot, is happening right at this very moment in 2012.

On 21 February this year, the three women were arrested for “hooliganism” motivated by religious hatred after they performed their song, Virgin Mary, Chase Putin Out in Moscow’s Orthodox Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, publicly voicing their opposition to the Russian President. The women have stated that their performance, where they donned their traditional colourful dresses, tights and balaclavas, and which lasted less than a minute before they were escorted outside by guards, was not meant to offend religious believers, but was a political act aimed at highlighting the church’s support for Vladimir Putin. The three band members have been on trial since late July and a verdict is expected to be announced on 17 August, with many predicting the women to be hit with a three-year jail sentence. Statistically the law is not on their side. Even in this day and age, in a supposedly democratic Russia, 99% of all cases brought before the courts end in a guilty verdict.

…Dmitry Rogozin, who called her a moralising “slut”…

The arrest and subsequent trial of three of the feminist, punk-rock band’s members (there are around 20 altogether), which formed in 2011 and is known for their impromptu, flash-mob style performances, has received world-wide attention and criticism. Amnesty International, the US Government and a number of high profile musicians, including the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Björk and most recently Madonna, have expressed their support for Alyokhina, Nadezhda and Tolokonnikova. During her concert in Moscow, Madonna performed Like a Virgin while wearing a balaclava, stripped off her shirt to reveal the words Pussy Riot written on her back and told fans, “these girls have done something courageous and they have paid the price for this act and I pray for their freedom”. In reaction to her outspoken support, the American pop star was attacked on Twitter by Russian deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, who called her a moralising “slut” and to “either take off your cross, or put on your knickers”.

Perhaps more than anything else, what has emerged from the Pussy Riot trial is that, once again, the level of free speech that is allowed in Russia has been called into question. Although the country’s 1993 constitution declared Russia a democratic, federative, law-based state, the rights that belong to citizens of a democratic nation, including the right to free speech are not guaranteed.

They are here because of their political beliefs…

Think back to last December’s anti-government protests that took place in Moscow. Nearly 50,000 protestors turned up to condemn alleged ballot fixing and demand a recount. They were given permission by the authorities to demonstrate yet there were still over 1,000 arrests, with many key political opposition figures jailed. At the time BBC reporter, Daniel Sandford said that with high police numbers, “the city began to resemble a police state rather than a democracy”.

Unquestionably the Pussy Riot trial is just one more example of free speech and political opposition in Russia being squashed. While prosecutors have insisted that the women sought to offend the entire Russian Orthodox Church, defence lawyer Violetta Volkova has said, “These women are not here because they danced in a church. They are here because of their political beliefs”. And while Russia’s history is fraught with governments exerting censorship and harsh measures against anti-government opposition, you would think, or at the very least like to hope, that a country that calls itself a democracy would leave all of that in the past. Unfortunately the case of Pussy Riot has proved that this is not the case. 

 

About The Author

An ex-pat Kiwi student, finishing up a masters in journalism. Writing and blogging, hoping to get my name out there.

One Response

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.